DURHAM -- THANKS in large part to its seniors, the University of New Hampshire hockey team made it back to Boston. Now it must win at the TD Garden.
It’s Championship Weekend in Wildcat Nation.
The gymnastics team plays host to the Eastern Atlantic Gymnastics League championships on Saturday at 2 p.m. in the Whittemore Center.
In the meantime, the men’s hockey team heads to the Hockey East tournament at the Garden.
The Wildcats are the No. 3 seed and take on No. 4 Providence in a semifinal matchup on Friday at about 8 p.m.
UNH-Providence follows the 5 p.m. opening semifinal between No. 2 seed UMass-Lowell and No. 8 Notre Dame.
The semifinal winners meet on Saturday at 7 p.m. for the Hockey East championship.
“As a senior class (getting to Boston) was something we definitely wanted to do,” said senior defenseman and captain Eric Knodel. “We haven’t been there since our freshman year and a couple of us didn’t play then. It was definitely a goal of ours to get back to Boston and now it’s to win it.”
The Wildcats have more riding on this weekend than do the other teams in Boston.Lowell and Notre Dame have wrapped up at least at-large bids to the NCAA tournament, according to college hockey insiders, and Providence is most likely in, too.UNH has work to do.
The Wildcats are on the outside looking in at the NCAA tournament and need to win their first Hockey East tournament title since 2003 to earn an automatic bid into the event. They also won the league championship in 2002.
UNH is 21-17-1 and enters the weekend at No. 17 in the PairWise rankings that mimic the system used by the NCAA to choose at-large teams for the tournament. Lowell is at No. 7, Notre Dame at No. 8 and Providence, 21-9-6, is tied at No. 9 with St. Cloud State.
Knodel and senior forwards Kevin Goumas and Nick Sorkin led UNH past Northeastern in three games last weekend in a quarterfinal series at the Whittemore Center.
Goumas contributed his second career hat trick and also had an assist in Sunday’s deciding 5-4 win. Sorkin had a goal and three assists.
Knodel, along with sophomore Brett Pesce, helped anchor the defense including the penalty killing units that allowed no goals on two Northeastern power plays on Sunday and nine for the weekend.
“The seniors wanted to get back there,” said UNH coach Dick Umile. “They were driven, especially Kevin. He had a great night.”
Goumas pulled into a tie with Umile on the school’s career scoring list with his third goal on Sunday, a blast early in the third period that put UNH in front for good.
“It’s OK,” Umile said. “He told me yesterday he’s coming after me. I hope he gets more four more Friday. That’d be fine with me.”
Goumas has 42 goals and 102 assists for 144 points in 144 career games. He and Umile are tied at No. 30 on the list. Umile had 60 goals and 84 assists for 144 in 87 games in three years, before freshmen were eligible.
UNH played a quarterfinal series at Providence last year and fell in three tough games, winning the middle game and losing 3-2 games on either end of the series.
The teams split a pair of games at Providence in November. UNH won 3-2 in overtime the first night and lost 4-2 the next.
The gymnastics team shoots for its second EAGL title and first since 2003 on Saturday.
The Wildcats are ranked No. 23 in the nation and have already locked up one of the 36 spots in the NCAA tournament. They will get their assignment to one of six regional sites on Monday.
“If anyone had told me in January that we’d be in this position now, I would have told them they were out of their mind,” said coach Gail Goodspeed. “We were not on our game.”
They have been since and now take aim at a title.
The Wildcats won by .05 of a point, 195.600 to 195.550, at North Carolina State on Sunday.
Still, Goodspeed said, North Carolina State may be the favorite for the championship and Rutgers, Pittsburgh and Maryland are among contenders along with UNH, and others could take the title as well.
“There’s a lot of parity,” Goodspeed said. “I think it’s anybody’s to take and anybody’s to lose.”
The Wildcats are ranked No.1 in the EAGL tournament, followed by North Carolina State, Rutgers, Maryland, Pittsburgh, George Washington, North Carolina and Towson.
UNH students get free admission to the event.
Goodspeed said the fact that the USA Gymnastics Level 9 and 10 state championships are being held at the Whittemore Center on Friday night is creating excitement around the EAGL championships, too.
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