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College Hockey: Blackburn, van Riemsdyk clicking for UNH

New Hampshire Union Leader

November 09. 2017 9:31PM
The University of New Hampshire's Brendan van Riemsdyk is shown in the first period of an exhibition game vs. St. Francis Xavier at The Whittemore Center in Durham. (Mark Bolton/Union Leader)
UNH hockey weekend
Tonight: vs. UMass Lowell at the Whittemore Center, Durham, 7 p.m.

Saturday: at Boston University, 7 p.m.

DURHAM — It appears Liam Blackburn and Brendan van Riemsdyk are unfamiliar with the concept of the sophomore slump.

Even without Patrick Grasso, their linemate for the majority of last season, Blackburn and van Riemsdyk have wasted no time producing for the University of New Hampshire men’s hockey team. Since Grasso’s return three games ago, their production has only amplified.

Blackburn and van Riemsdyk combined for 10 points (five goals, five assists) skating primarily alongside Chris Miller, a junior from Windham, on No. 8 UNH’s way to a 5-0-0 start. The Wildcats host UMass Lowell tonight and play at Boston University on Saturday night.

Grasso, who missed the first five games due to a shoulder injury, made his season debut in UNH’s 2-1 overtime loss to Colorado College on Oct. 21. Blackburn, van Riemsdyk and Grasso have logged a combined eight points (three goals, five assists) since being reunited.

“It’s a great line,” UNH coach Dick Umile said. “van Riemsdyk is playing well. Blackburn is playing well. I mean Grasso has only got (two assists) but he adds something. He’s probably playing at 85 percent. He’s fighting through a serious shoulder injury here.”

In addition to their even-strength play, Umile said Blackburn and van Riemsdyk have also played a big role on the Wildcats’ penalty kill.

“I mean van Riemsdyk and Blackburn are our two key penalty killers,” Umile said. “They might go out there twice on one kill. We have three or four units but depending on the score of the game, what time it is in the game, we might come back with them quite often.”

Grasso logged both of his assists in UNH’s 3-0 win at UMass Amherst last Saturday but is still looking for his first goal of the year. He registered 20 goals alongside 13 assists as a freshman last year. Only Tyler Kelleher, who graduated last spring, and senior Jason Salvaggio scored more goals for the Wildcats last season.

“They’re all great players,” Salvaggio said of van Riemsdyk, Blackburn and Grasso. “They all complement each other very well. ... It definitely helps having Grasso back. He’s a big piece to our puzzle on our team.”

Salvaggio said he thinks all three forwards are playing with a lot more confidence than they did last year.

“I think just being a freshman in this league (Hockey East), it’s hard,” Salvaggio said. “Coming back, you’re an older guy….You’ve got a whole year under your belt and it might be easier to play.”

Blackburn, van Riemsdyk and Grasso will take that confidence into the Wildcats’ two games against Hockey East competition this weekend.

UNH (6-1-1, 3-0-1 Hockey East) will host UML (4-6-0, 1-5-0 Hockey East) tonight at 7 before heading south for its first meeting with Boston University this season. The No. 15 Terriers (4-5-1, 2-2-1 Hockey East) will host UNH Saturday at 7 p.m.

The Wildcats swept UMass Lowell, the defending Hockey East champion, in a season-opening home-and-home series. Tonight will mark the final regular-season meeting between UNH and the River Hawks.

UMass Lowell is 1-3 over its last four games, all of which were against league foes. The River Hawks lost both meetings with Northeastern Oct. 27-28 and split their two-game home series with Maine last weekend.

Like the River Hawks, Boston University is 1-3 over its last four games. The Terriers split their two games with Providence College and lost to both Northeastern and defending national champion Denver over that stretch.

“I think we’re going to learn a lot about ourselves this weekend,” UNH senior goaltender Danny Tirone said. “And hopefully everything we’ve done, we can put it into effect and execute the way we have been up to this point.”

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UNH will be without forwards Shane Eiserman and Marcus Vela this weekend, Umile said.

Eiserman, a senior, is dealing with a knee injury and has not played since the Wildcats’ 6-3 victory over Colorado College on Oct. 20. Vela, a junior, had his appendix removed last Sunday, Umile said. Vela did not play against UMass Amherst last Saturday.