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March 23. 2014 7:27PM

Allen Lessels' UNH Notebook: Wildcats’ heads held high

THE University of New Hampshire gymnastics team got its league championship on Saturday.
Gail Goodspeed’s team held off Maryland, Rutgers, North Carolina State and the rest to win its second Eastern Atlantic Gymnastics League title at the Whittemore Center. The Wildcats will find out today at 3 p.m. where they are headed for the NCAA Regionals.

The usual occupants of the Whittemore Center — the men’s hockey team — did not fare as well on Saturday and came up short in their bid for a league championship.

UMass Lowell scored a couple of goals in the first period, a couple more in the second and knocked off UNH, 4-0, behind the 30 saves of sophomore Connor Hellebuyck in the title game at the TD Bank Garden in Boston.

The Wildcats needed to win the Hockey East title to earn a spot in the NCAA tournament. Instead, they missed the NCAAs for the second time in three seasons and finished the season with a 22-18-1 record.

He was disappointed in the loss and the fact the season has ended, but coach Dick Umile said late on Sunday afternoon that he was happy with how the team, led by a strong senior class, played on Saturday night and through the season.

“It was a good locker room and we had good chemistry and overall I thought the team played well on Saturday,” Umile said. “It was not well enough, obviously. We didn’t find a way to get it by him, but it was not for lack of how we played and competed. It just didn’t happen.”

Hellebuyck and Lowell shut out Notre Dame, 4-0, in their semifinal on Friday night and they beat Boston University, 1-0, in last year’s title game.

UMass Lowell and Hellebuyck also ended UNH’s season last year, 2-0, in the Northeast Regional final at Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester.Casey DeSmith, a junior from Rochester, made 25 saves and senior Kevin Goumas scored two goals in a 3-1 win over Providence on Friday night that moved the Wildcats into the league finale.

“Like I told the team, we hadn’t been to the championship game for a while and we hadn’t been to the Garden and the seniors brought us back and that was good for the program,” Umile said. “They got us an opportunity, got us to the championship game in a year I think the league was the most competitive ever, by far.”

UNH took out Northeastern in three games in the quarterfinals to advance to Boston for the first time since 2011. The win over Providence put the Wildcats into the title game for the first time since 2007, when they lost to Boston College.

The team loses seven seniors — led by senior captain Eric Knodel and Goumas and including defenseman Justin Agosta, goalie Jeff Wyer and forwards Nick Sorkin, Dalton Speelman and Jeff Silengo.

“We’ll be bringing in a large number of freshmen, somewhere around eight or nine, probably at last eight,” Umile said.

Junior Trevor van Riemsdyk, who ended up being out for the year after breaking his ankle in mid-January, is due back to lead the team, as long as he doesn’t leave to play professionally.

“That’s always a possibility with a player of that caliber,” Umile said. “We’ll see how that all plays out.”

Umile called it an outside chance that Agosta, who didn’t play as a freshman, could come back for a final year of eligibility.

The players will get a couple of weeks off now and then will get into off-ice physical training to close out the semester.

When they get back at it for real in October, Umile will hope they pick up where they left off.

“I wasn’t disappointed with the way we played on Saturday, to be quite honest,” he said. “It was a strange game. We had a lot of zone time, a lot of possession time. We could have gotten more second and third shots, it was kind of a one and done thing. When we were down 4-0, we played some of our best hockey at the start of the third period. They stayed with it right to the end.”

_____

THE gymnastics team recorded its fifth highest score in team history — a 196.375 — to win its second EAGL title to go with one it collected in 2003.

Senior Erin Machado won the individual floor exercise championship and freshman Meghan Pflieger made the All-Tournament First Team. Pflieger was also First Team on the balance beam and floor exercise and Second Team on vault.

Maryland was runnerup and Rutgers and North Carolina State finished in a third-place tie. George Washington was fifth and Pittsburgh, North Carolina and Towson rounded out the tournament.

The Wildcats, who had already clinched a spot in the NCAAs prior to the EAGLs, are one of 36 teams in the event and will be assigned to one of six regionals that will be held around the country on April 5.

The top two teams at regionals advance to the championships April 18-20 in Birmingham, Ala.

“No question, that’s the goal,” Goodspeed said.

alessels@unionleader.com


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