DURHAM -- This is it for Marcus Vela, Ara Nazarian, Chris Miller, Richard Boyd and Frankie Cefalu.
The five University of New Hampshire men’s hockey team skaters take to the Whittemore Center ice for the last time as players tonight to take on No. 14 UMass Lowell in a 7 p.m. contest.
It’s Senior Night at the Whitt and captain Vela and the gang are looking to regroup and get back on track with the Hockey East tournament fast approaching.
“It’s a special night,” said Anthony Wyse, a junior defenseman. “It’s obviously a little sad. Some of us have been playing with these guys the last three years. We want to make the most of the last game for them. It’s an emotional night. Plus, we want to win a hockey game.”
The Wildcats are down to just three games remaining in the regular season.
After finishing up at the Whitt tonight, they move on to a rematch with the River Hawks at the Tsongas Center in Lowell on Saturday at 7:15 p.m. and then close out with a game at Northeastern next Friday, March 8.
The Wildcats have guaranteed themselves a spot in the Hockey East tournament, but are still jockeying for playoff seeding and want to play well and go into the playoffs on a roll.
“We want to bounce back and change the mindset,” Wyse said. “We know we’re in the playoffs and we don’t want to go in with a losing streak.”
The Wildcats are looking to rebound from a pair of losses at home to then-No. 12 Northeastern last weekend.
“This week is really important for us in the sense that you want to be playing your best hockey going into the playoffs,” said coach Mike Souza. “We have three opportunities to play the way we want to play. Each and every opportunity you have to go out you’re trying to play to the standards you set for your own team. I think for us we need to get back to that.”
There were good signs in the losses to Northeastern as well. The Wildcats had a 3-1 lead in the second period on Friday night and it was a 1-0 game on Saturday night into the third period.
“We’ve had flashes of playing really well even in our recent losses,” Souza said. “I thought Saturday night against Northeastern we played well for two periods. Two periods doesn’t get you very far against teams that are going to play in the NCAA tournament. We learned that the hard way on Saturday.”
UMass Lowell presents tough challenges, too.
The River Hawks and Northeastern are tied for third place in the league standings.
“They pose a number of problems like Northeastern,” Souza said. “They’ve got really strong goaltending. They’ve got a great balanced attack. They’re a very detailed team. They don’t give up much. They don’t beat themselves. Their defensemen have great sticks and they’re obviously very well coached. They don’t give you anything. You’ve got to work for everything you get.”
UMass Lowell uses a pair of goaltenders. Junior Tyler Wall has a 2.09 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage and senior Christoffer Hernberg is at 2.29 and .917.
Junior forward Ryan Lohin leads the River Hawks in scoring with 12 goals and 13 assists for 25 points.
“They like to play inside the dots,” Souza said. “They’ll get inside the dots and they’ve got some big strong players. We’ve got to be prepared this weekend to play really hard-fought, tough old school hockey games. They’ve been one of the most consistent teams in the league since Norm Bazin got there. We know that the margin of error is very small when you play Lowell.”
Vela and his fellow seniors will see what they can do with the River Hawks.
“The senior class has been fantastic,” Souza said. “They’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do. What comes to mind about Marcus was this last weekend. The game’s 5-0 or 6-0 and he blocks a shot towards the end of the game. He’s killing a penalty and he puts his face in front of a slap shot at the middle of the ice. That’s why he’s the captain. He plays hard, does everything you ask of him. The same can be said for the other guys. There’s been some things this year that we’ve done differently and they’ve embraced it and they’ve done a great job of carrying our message right on down through the lineup. It’s a testament to the type of people they are.”