College Hockey: Wildcats start with the bestBy ALEX HALL
New Hampshire Union Leader
October 05. 2017 11:53PM
DURHAM — The University of New Hampshire men’s hockey team will open this season in the building where its previous campaign came to an end.
No. 5 UMass Lowell, the defending Hockey East champion, will host the Wildcats tonight (7:15) at the Tsongas Center.
UNH’s last visit to the Tsongas Center resulted in an 8-2 loss in Game 3 of its best-of-three Hockey East quarterfinal series with the River Hawks.
“Losing to them 8-2 last year last game kind of left a sour taste in our mouths, so I think we’re all very excited to open up the season against them and really compete,” UNH senior defenseman Cam Marks said.
UNH will host the River Hawks at the Whittemore Center Saturday at 7 p.m. to complete the home-and-home series.
Wildcats coach Dick Umile called UMass Lowell one of the top teams in the country.
UMass Lowell was predicted to finish second in Hockey East behind No. 2 Boston University in the league’s preseason coaches poll.
“They lost some key players like everybody does but they just seem to come out and be almost robotic,” Umile said of the River Hawks. “They just come at you and it’s like the same-looking team. They’re big. They’re strong. They’ve got great goaltending.”
The Wildcats will try to best River Hawks sophomore goaltender Tyler Wall, a New York Rangers 2016 draft pick, with a first line similar to the one that started most of last year. UNH’s top line to start this season will feature a Kelleher and seniors Michael McNicholas and Jason Salvaggio. This year, it’s freshman Charlie Kelleher, whose brother Tyler graduated last spring ranked 16th in program history in points (167), including the 63 he tallied last season.
McNicholas said the Kelleher brothers have more than a few similarities in their games.
“They’re both skilled guys and they both see the ice really well,” McNicholas said. “(Charlie has) come in and has been put in a big role and he’s doing well with it so far. It’s nice having him on the right side.”
The River Hawks have a few notable offensive threats of their own in seniors John Edwardh and Jake Kamrass and sophomore Ryan Lohin. Edwardh logged 39 points (19 goals, 20 assists) while Kamrass added 22 points (13 goals, nine assists) last year. Lohin tallied 29 points (12 goals, 17 assists) last season.
The Wildcats will try to limit UMass Lowell’s chances against senior goaltender Danny Tirone, an assistant captain, by playing strong team defense.
“That’s something we need to do based on we didn’t do that well last season,” Umile said. “And we put a lot of work into defensive play, transition defense and defense in our own zone — and that’s the goaltenders, the forwards and the defensemen.”
Marks said the Wildcats have been putting an emphasis on team defense during practice.
“If the whole team is playing good defense, we’re going to succeed,” Marks said.
The Wildcats will be without sophomore forward Patrick Grasso this weekend. Umile said Grasso, who is recovering from a shoulder injury, “won’t be ready probably for a couple of weeks.”
Grasso finished last season fifth on the team in points (33) behind 20 goals and 13 assists. Only Tyler Kelleher (24) and Salvaggio (23) scored more goals for the Wildcats than Grasso last year.