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Alex Hall's NH College Hockey: A bounce in their step

New Hampshire Union Leader

February 08. 2018 10:08PM
UNH head hockey coach Dick Umile in the season opener at Lowell in October. (THOMAS ROY/UNION LEADER FILE)

University of New Hampshire goaltender Danny Tirone has noticed a change in the team’s morale throughout practice this week. That is the effect that snapping a 12-game winless streak can have on a team.

The Wildcats were 0-8-4 over their last 12 games before defeating the University of Massachusetts, 3-1, in Durham last Saturday.

“We played a real strong game on Saturday night and it feels good,” Tirone said. “Now it’s a little bit more fun coming to the rink.”

Tirone, a senior alternate captain, said the Wildcats kept their spirits up during the winless streak and felt Saturday’s win was a long time coming.

“I think over the stretch, we were doing a good job of being positive and being there for each other and stuff like that but definitely there was always this cloud over us that we’ve got to get through this,” Tirone said. “It motivated us to keep working but when you get out of it there’s a little bit of relief.

“Things are going in the right direction. Morale is a little bit better and guys are excited about what’s to come.”

What is coming for UNH (10-13-5, 5-9-4 Hockey East) is an important two-game home series with Vermont (8-15-5, 5-9-4 Hockey East). Both the Wildcats and Vermont are tied for eighth in the Hockey East standings with the conference playoffs fast approaching. UNH will host the Catamounts tonight and Saturday night at 7 p.m. It’s Coach Dick Umile Weekend, a celebration of his career.

UNH is looking to secure the No. 6, 7 or 8 seed for the Hockey East tournament and earn home-ice advantage for the quarterfinal round. The Wildcats have opened the conference playoffs on the road each of the past three seasons.

“There’s no question, the first round, if you can get home ice it’s better than the alternative of traveling,” Umile said. “We’ve done that the last couple years.”

If the Wildcats want to secure home ice, it would help if they could increase their scoring output. UNH ranks sixth in Hockey East in goals per game (2.75) and has been held to three or fewer goals in 12 of its last 13 games.

Sophomore forward Liam Blackburn said he and his fellow teammates up front understand it is crucial to find the back of the net often at this time of year.

“It’s at the end of the season now so now the games really matter and we’re looking at the standings and where we’re going to be in playoffs and stuff like that,” Blackburn said. “Every game we’re playing now we’re needing to put some goals up and that ends up mostly on the forwards. We’re going to take that and we’re going to try and obviously score as many goals as we can.”

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UNH will celebrate Umile’s career during both contests. The weekend will include special giveaways and on-ice presentations featuring former Wildcats who were coached by or played with Umile.

Umile will retire after this season, which marks his 28th leading the Wildcats. He also recorded 144 career points (60 goals, 84 assists) over 87 games before graduating from UNH in 1972.

Tirone called Umile the best coach he has ever had and is excited to be a part of the senior class that will go out with him. As Tirone reflected on his time playing for Umile, he recalled one of his earliest interactions with the coach.

“I remember when I first met him, it was in the coach’s room,” Tirone said. “I was definitely scared. I was nervous. I was kind of quiet. And the way he is — he’s very flamboyant with his hands — he was kind of smacking me when he was saying stuff — real Italian — talking about being Italian. He made me feel comfortable right away. I didn’t say much but he made me laugh.”

Tirone, like Umile, is a full-blooded Italian.

“He loves Italians. He loves talking about food — Italian food — what I had over Christmas break,” Tirone said. “You could talk about that forever with him.”

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THE NCAA announced Monday that Bowdoin College senior Camil Blanchet was named one of the five finalists for the 2018 Hockey Humanitarian Award.

The award is presented annually to college hockey’s finest citizen for leadership in community service. The winner will be announced April 6 as part of the Frozen Four in St. Paul, Minn.

Blanchet, a forward from Swanzey, serves as the McKeen Common Good Center representative to the Bowdoin Student Government and has played a role in several service efforts, including the men’s hockey team’s Cerebral Palsy Fund-raiser Game and the local “Race the Runway” half-marathon road race. He has also been part of the “Breaking the Bubble” initiative on campus, in which he recruited 25 student-athletes to participate in community service leadership training.

On the ice, Blanchet has registered five points (one goal, five assists) through 20 games for Bowdoin (7-13, 4-10 NESCAC).

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THE BOSTON COLLEGE women’s hockey team will try to capture its third straight and eighth overall Beanpot championship when it hosts Boston University next Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at Conte Forum.

Five of Boston College’s seven Beanpot titles (2009, 2011, 2014, 2016, 2017) have come during the 10-year tenure of coach Katie Crowley, who is from Salem.

The No. 3 Eagles reached this year’s Beanpot championship game by defeating Northeastern, 5-2, on Tuesday behind a hat trick from junior Makenna Newkirk and two goals from freshman Daryl Watts.

Northeastern tied the game at 2-2 at the 10:34 mark of the second period when senior captain Shelby Herrington, a forward from Bow, put home a rebound goal from the crease.

The NH College Hockey column runs Fridays during the season. Alex Hall can be reached at