Grasso can hardly wait for UNH hockey seasonBy ALLEN LESSELS
September 18. 2018 8:01PM
DURHAM — Patrick Grasso has had enough with the watching.
The University of New Hampshire men’s hockey team opens the season under first-year head coach Mike Souza in a little more than three weeks and Grasso can’t wait.
“Just counting down the days,” Grasso said Tuesday at the Whittemore Center. “I’m very excited. It’s been a long time coming. Being away from the game for that long, it gets you in a good mood when you finally get back at it.”
Souza and all the Wildcats are excited about getting the season started. Grasso has more reason than most to get going. He missed most of last season with an injury.
UNH hits the road to open the season. The Wildcats are at Colgate for games on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 12 and 13, and then move on to play at Colorado College on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 19 and 20. The home opener is also the team’s Hockey East opener, Saturday, Oct. 27 against Vermont at 7 p.m.
Grasso’s return bolsters an offense that had its struggles last season. UNH averaged 2.44 goals a game, down more than half a goal a game from the previous year.
“Having Patrick back this year hopefully means we’ll have the ability to score more goals,” said Souza, who has been on the ice with his team for a couple of weeks with practice time limited so far by the NCAA. “He’s a guy that’s proven to be productive in Hockey East and we see no reason for him not to be this year. We couldn’t be more excited to have him back in our lineup. He looks good out there.”
Last year, Liam Blackburn, now a junior, led UNH with 11 goals.
As a freshman, Grasso was third on the team in goals with 20 to go along with 13 assists. Last year he had two goals and eight assists in 12 games.
Grasso has received a medical hardship waiver from the NCAA for last year and has three years of eligibility remaining.
“Patrick’s not the fastest guy, he’s not the biggest guy, but I’d be hard pressed to find many forwards in the country who are smarter than him,” Souza said. “He’s got really good hockey sense.”
Grasso made the most of his time off the ice last season and worked on that hockey sense.
“Sometimes it’s good to step away and kind of see the game from a different perspective,” Grasso said. “I think I picked up a little bit on both sides of the puck. Being able to see plays develop from up in the stands you kind of see what spaces get open a little bit more than others and I’m trying to use that going forward.”
Souza likes what he’s seen in practice so far, while stressing there’s a lot of work to do, and looks forward to when full practice starts Saturday, Oct. 6.
“It’s a clean slate for everyone and I think what we’ve seen from a couple of guys would lend you to think we may have the ability to score some goals this year,” the coach said. “But you just never know. It’s hard to pinpoint why guys score some years and why sometimes with guys who score all the time in practice, it doesn’t translate to a game. We’re just excited to see where we are.”
Souza looks to get scoring contributions from up and down the lineup, including from seniors such as Ara Nazarian and Marcus Vela. Freshmen Angus Crookshank and Jackson Pierson are among the freshmen who will aim to help out.
“We’re looking for some of our older guys to find new roles and hopefully in those roles grow and be more productive offensively,” Souza said. “There’s no secret, scoring goals has a lot to do with being successful. We want to play a brand of hockey that is detailed in what we do away from the puck and what we do with the puck. In terms of creativity we have some forwards we think are pretty creative and we want to let them play.”
One highlight from last year was that UNH dropped its goals-against average from 3.40 per game in 2016-17 to 2.89 last year.
“It was an uncharacteristic season last year overall (with a 10-20-6 record), but as I’ve told many people, we’ve moved on from last year,” Souza said. “We were productive defensively. Our goals against was down, but we didn’t win a lot of hockey games. At the end of the day the only stat that really matters is the one that’s underneath the ‘W’ in the win column. Hopefully we can advance the ball this year and win a lot more hockey games. That’s our goal.”