200227-spt-unh-ROY_0844

UNH’s Jackson Pierson, shown in action two weeks ago against Boston University at the Whittemore Center in Durham, co-leads the team in assists. The Wildcats will need firepower this weekend with two critical Hockey East games against UMass Lowell coming up.

University of New Hampshire men’s hockey coach Mike Souza classified junior forward Charlie Kelleher as doubtful for this weekend’s Hockey East home-and-home series with UMass Lowell. Even if the Wildcats’ assistant captain cannot take the ice this weekend, Kelleher will likely still be with his teammates on the bench.

Kelleher stood among the UNH coaching staff during its last game: a 3-1 loss at Boston University on Feb. 15. If Kelleher cannot contribute on the ice, that is probably how he will help his teammates again this weekend.

“I think so,” Souza said when asked if Kelleher will be on the Wildcats’ bench if the forward cannot play this weekend. “He’s a leader for our group and I think it’s important that he’s with his teammates.”

Kelleher, who has missed UNH’s past four games with a lower-body injury, led the team in points (23) when he left the lineup and is tied with Jackson Pierson and Max Gildon for the team lead in assists (17).

The Wildcats, who had a bye last week following their two losses to BU Feb. 14-15, will play at No. 12 UMass Lowell Friday night at 7:15. The River Hawks (16-10-5, 10-7-4 Hockey East) will then travel to Durham for a 7 p.m. bout with UNH (15-13-2, 9-10-1) at the Whittemore Center on Saturday.

The Wildcats are in ninth place and UMass Lowell is tied with Connecticut for fourth place in the 11-team Hockey East standings. The top eight teams at the end of the regular season will qualify for the league playoffs.

“You feel for the kid a lot of times because he wants to be in there and his teammates want him in there,” Souza said. “I had him on the bench down at BU (that) Saturday standing with the coaches because I think he’s a leader and he wanted to participate in some way.”

Both UNH senior defenseman and captain Anthony Wyse and junior forward and assistant captain Patrick Grasso said having Kelleher on the bench that game benefited the team.

“He brought a lot of energy and knowledge,” Wyse said. “He’s one of our best forwards and guys really love and respect him so when he talks, guys listen...Despite the fact he’s had his injury problems, he’s just as much as part of the team as anyone else.”

“Obviously, (Kelleher) is a huge part of our team,” Grasso said. “To have him on the bench and patting guys on the back and being the leader that he is, it was huge.”

The Wildcats have gone 2-2 over their four games without Kelleher. UNH swept Vermont behind 6-3 and 2-1 victories and then fell to BU, 4-1 and 3-1. The Wildcats struggled to find the back of the net against BU despite generating plenty of offensive zone time and outshooting the Terriers, 58-50, on the weekend.

UMass Lowell is tied for 13th in the nation in fewest goals allowed (74) and UNH is 29th in goals per game (2.77). River Hawks senior goaltender Tyler Wall is second in save percentage (.930) and fifth in goals against average (2.15) in Hockey East.

“I think he was having a really solid year for us,” Souza said of Kelleher. “Not having him for sure hurts. It’s given other guys an opportunity to step up and if he’s not in the lineup on Friday, we’re going to obviously need some of the guys that you would think of to step up and that’s hopefully what happens for us.”

Saint Anselm, Franklin Pierce reflect on marathon NEWHA semifinal

As one overtime period turned into five, Saint Anselm College women’s hockey coach Kerstin Matthews kept telling her players the game-winning goal wasn’t going to be a pretty one. It was going to come from grit, hard work and crashing the net.

Madison Spraque used her coach’s advice to help the Hawks earn a 2-1 five-overtime New England Women’s Hockey Alliance semifinal victory over Franklin Pierce University last Saturday at Sullivan Arena.

From in front of the Ravens’ cage, Sprague redirected classmate Kathleen LeFebre‘s blast from the left point 7:24 into the fifth overtime and 147:24 into the contest, ending the longest women’s college hockey game in history.

The game bested the previous record of 144:32 set by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Quinnipiac on Feb. 28, 2010, and is the third-longest ever — men’s or women’s. The University of Massachusetts men’s team’s 4-3 Hockey East first-round victory over Notre Dame on March 6, 2015, that lasted 151:42 is the longest in history.

“Really, what we talked about was we felt we had more sustained pressure on their goaltender but we were sitting back a little bit in our own zone,” Matthews said. “We talked about playing aggressive all over the ice and throw everything on net and that’s how we ended up winning. Madison happens to be in front.

“You can’t sit back and you can’t play it safe. You have to go for it.”

Sprague, a junior forward, did not score in Saint Anselm’s previous six games before Saturday’s semifinal.

“There is no blueprint for a five-overtime game,” Franklin Pierce coach David Stockdale said in a statement. “I’m disappointed for my players to end up on the wrong side of the result, but as a staff we were very proud of them and I also hope they’ll be really proud of themselves for the effort they put forth and that they will be able to look back fondly on this game five, 10, 25 years down the road and think that it was really special to be part of such a unique game.”

As the extra frames piled up, Matthews could tell her players were tired but said she combated that by expanding her bench. The Hawks’ fourth line consisting of freshmen Kenadie Cooper, Marissa Agerter and Mary Lambert, a junior from Plaistow, provided a jump and other freshmen like defender Gabrielle Huson provided meaningful overtime minutes, Matthews said.

“You can’t keep shortening your bench,” Matthews said. “You have to use it to your advantage....Everyone stepped up knowing it was a group effort and we can’t rely on just the big kids.”

Franklin Pierce took a 1-0 lead into the third period behind Katelyn Brightbill‘s power-play goal that came 6:34 into the contest. Saint Anselm pulled even on junior Katy Meehan‘s net-front goal — her 15th of the season and 45th of her career — 5:48 into the third period.

Ravens sophomore goaltender Emme Ostrander made a program-record 79 saves, which was 10 shy of the NCAA Division I record. Senior goalie Michaela Kane made 44 saves for the Hawks.

Sprague, Meehan and Ostrander were named to the All-NEWHA Tournament team.

“In some regards, it’s the most memorable piece of our season,” Matthews said. “It brought the kids together in a great way to accomplish something like that.”

The Hawks fell to LIU, 1-0, in the NEWHA championship game the next day in a game Matthews said you can’t argue a fatigue was a factor for her players.

Going forward, Matthews said something needs to be addressed regarding playing that many overtime periods and then a championship game the next day.

“There’s got to be an answer and I don’t think the answer is five overtimes,” Matthews said. “I think it’s a ton of hockey for young athletes to play or for pro athletes to play, for that matter.”

UNH women prepare for Hockey East quarterfinal series

For the second consecutive season, the UNH women’s team enters the Hockey East playoffs as the sixth seed. The Wildcats (16-14-4, 12-12-3 Hockey East) will play at third-seeded Providence (18-12-4, 15-10-2) in the best-of-three quarterfinal series.

The Friars will host UNH Thursday night (6), Friday night (6) and, if necessary, Sunday at 2 p.m. at Schneider Arena. Providence won the regular-season series with the Wildcats, 2-1, and are 8-7-2 at home this season. UNH has gone 7-6-3 on the road this year.

The Friars are 8-6 over their 14 playoff series with UNH.

The Wildcats are looking to reach the Hockey East semifinals for the first time since 2012-13 season.

All-NE-10 Conference honors

Franklin Pierce men’s coach Shaun Millerick received the Northeast-10 Conference coach of the year award and Ravens senior forward Alex Lester repeated as the player of the year.

Lester led the league in points (38), goals (17) and assists (21) to become the fourth player in NE-10 men’s hockey history to win the award multiple times. Millerick led the Ravens to a 15-11-4 overall record and their first NE-10 postseason since their 2012-13 campaign. Freshman forward Conor Foley made the NE-10 All-Rookie team after posting 20 points (nine goals, 11 assists).

Southern New Hampshire University freshman and Hampton resident James Nash earned a spot alongside classmate George Thurston on the NE-10 All-Rookie team. Thurston was also named the league’s rookie of the year after tallying 20 points (12 goals, eight assists). Nash finished fourth on the Penmen in scoring with five goals and 10 helpers.

Saint Anselm led the league with six players earning all-conference honors. Forward Mike Ferraro was named to the All-NE-10 First Team while forward Anthony Iacullo and defensemen Dave Almeida and Liam O’Sullivan earned spots on the All-NE-10 Second Team. Freshmen Andrew Andary, a forward, and Nick Howard, a goaltender, made the NE-10 All-Rookie team.

The NH College Hockey column runs Thursdays during the season. Alex Hall can be reached at ahall@unionleader.com.