190926-spt-unh-hockey-016_0668

KELLEHER

AT TIMES this season, the University of New Hampshire men’s hockey team has looked like it could be among the best in Hockey East. That is not the case in the standings right now but the Wildcats have shown they can beat some of the best teams both in the league and the nation.

UNH (12-9-1, 6-6-0 Hockey East) is 4-2-0 against nationally ranked teams entering its home-and-home series with No. 7 and Hockey East-leading University of Massachusetts this weekend. The Wildcats, who are in eighth place in the league standings with 12 points, will play at UMass Friday at 7 p.m. before hosting the Minutemen (16-7-1, 9-4-1) at the same time Saturday.

The Wildcats defeated then-No. 15 Boston College, 1-0 in overtime, on Nov. 1, then-No. 2 UMass, 3-1, on Nov. 10, then-No. 11 Northeastern, 5-4 in overtime, on Jan. 11 and then-No. 11 Providence, 4-3, last Friday. They also lost to then-No. 12 Northeastern, 4-0, on Nov. 29 and to Providence, 5-1, last Saturday.

“Since the beginning of this year, we knew what we had in our locker room and we know how good we can be,” UNH junior assistant captain and forward Charlie Kelleher said. “The biggest thing for us is not just being happy with coming out with a split weekend or a tie. We want to win weekends and we want to climb the rankings. We want to be one of the top teams in the league.”

This will be UNH’s third consecutive weekend facing the top team in Hockey East. Northeastern was tied for first place entering its meeting with UNH earlier this month and Providence was atop the league standings before last weekend’s series.

Wildcats coach Mike Souza said victories over teams like UMass and Boston College have strengthened UNH’s belief that it can claw into the upper echelon of the league’s standings.

“I think the guys believe that going into a game, they have every right to win the game just like the other team and it’s not a situation where we’re just happy to be in the game,” Souza said. “That’s what you see out of the top teams in our league, which is what we’re aspiring to be.

“But in order to have that believability, you have to get results. We’ve been fortunate enough to get some results against good teams and that does a lot for individual confidence, for team confidence.”

Over the past three seasons, coach Greg Carvel‘s Minutemen have shown UNH and the rest of Hockey East just how quickly a program can become a league and national title contender. UMass went 5-29-2 overall during the 2016-17 season and improved to 17-20-2 overall — the biggest one-season win turnaround in program history — and reached the Hockey East quarterfinals in its 2017-18 campaign. After defeating UNH four times — twice in the regular season and twice more in the league quarterfinals — and winning the NCAA Northeast Regional in Manchester, the Minutemen finished last season by playing in their first ever national championship game and finishing with a 31-10-0 overall record.

“Obviously, they’ve done a great job climbing the ranks and stuff like that,” said Kelleher, who grew up in Longmeadow, Mass. “They compete like the top team in the league and they are one of the top teams in the league. It’s pretty cool what they’re doing over there and we’re going to do our best to try to emulate that and try to work our way up as well.”

To improve on their “on-the-bubble” position in the Hockey East playoff picture, the Wildcats will have to best a UMass team that Souza said features a multitude of threats. The Minutemen allow the fewest goals per game in the league (two), own the No. 19 penalty-kill percentage in the nation (84.3) and boast two of the league’s top three goal scorers in John Leonard (17) and Mitchell Chaffee (16).

Eight teams will qualify for the Hockey East postseason tournament this year.

UNH is seventh in Hockey East in both goals per game (2.86) and goals allowed per game (2.77), owns the No. 16 power-play percentage in the nation (21.2) and is 58th of 60 Division I teams in penalty-kill percentage (.723).

“I think we’ve just kind of really put it all into one finished product against some of these top teams — knowing that we can play and beat these top teams in the east,” UNH junior defenseman Max Gildon said. “And we want to get to that top spot so beating these teams is the way to do it.”

Best friends Parker and Amato producing as linemates for FPU women

After talking about the possibilities for two years, Franklin Pierce University junior forwards and best friends Haley Parker and Nicole Amato were finally paired on a line together at the beginning of this season.

While their right wing linemate has changed during the year, Parker and Amato’s output as a pair has not.

Parker, a left wing and Londonderry resident, is second on the team in scoring with 26 points (10 goals, 16 assists). The Proctor Academy of Andover graduate has registered five points on a goal and four assists over the Ravens’ past three games.

Amato, a center and Billerica, Mass., resident, has notched 15 points (nine goals, six assists). The Arlington (Mass.) Catholic graduate became the second player in program history to record 50 career goals with her two-goal output in a 7-1 win over SUNY Potsdam Jan. 11. Parker assisted on Amato’s 49th career and first goal of that game.

“They’re both very gifted offensively,” Franklin Pierce coach David Stockdale said of Parker and Amato. “Haley’s a really good passer and she’s physical and she does those kind of things. Nicole’s very skilled. She can create something out of nothing. They complement each other very well offensively.”

Parker recorded 63 points (26 goals, 37 assists) and Amato tallied 75 points (41 goals, 34 assists) over their first two seasons.

“The two years we’ve had not playing together have been pretty high (production) in all aspects so putting us together, I feel like, has just (been a) powerhouse,” Parker said.

Parker said she and Amato are different players but their on and off-ice chemistry has made them a dynamic pair.

“I feel like since we’re two opposite players but know each other so well that we know what each other can do better than the other and we’re able to work on that with each other,” Parker said.

The Ravens have won four straight entering their two-game home series with fellow New England Women’s Hockey Alliance program St. Michael’s this weekend. Franklin Pierce (15-6, 8-3 NEWHA) will host the Purple Knights (3-15-4, 2-11-1) Friday night at 7:30 and again Saturday at 1 p.m. at Jason Ritchie Ice Arena in Winchendon, Mass.

Ice chips

Franklin Pierce senior tri-captain Delaney Guimont, a defender from Bedford, will take a three-game point streak into the women’s team’s two games with St. Michael’s this weekend. Guimont has logged five points on two goals and three assists over the Ravens’ last three games.

Guimont’s younger brother, Shea, is a junior goaltender for the Bedford High School boys’ hockey team.

St. Michael’s College forward Niall Foster‘s first goal of the season forced overtime in the team’s 6-5 home Northeast-10 Conference triumph over Franklin Pierce last Friday.

Skating as the Purple Knights’ extra forward, the junior from Newmarket scored with 3:02 left in regulation on a one-timer from the right circle off assists from Jeremy Routh and Cameron Stewart. Teammate Alec Lindberg, a freshman from Bedford, made 27 saves in the Purple Knights’ 2-2 tie with the Ravens the following night.

Yale forward Justin Pearson, a sophomore from Nashua, ended his five-game scoreless drought with a goal in the Bulldogs’ 4-1 ECAC win over Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute last Saturday. The Bishop Guertin of Nashua graduate opened the game’s scoring with his power-play goal that came with 4:08 remaining in the first period.

Concord’s Brett Stoddard scored the lone goal for the Bowdoin women’s team in its 1-1 tie at Connecticut College last Saturday. Stoddard’s second goal and fifth point of the season opened the game’s scoring with 8:09 left in the first period. The St. Paul’s School of Concord graduate also had an assist in the Polar Bears’ 3-1 loss to Connecticut College the night before.

Stoddard is one of six Granite Staters on Bowdoin’s roster. Her older sister, Izzi, is a junior forward and also attended St. Paul’s. The Polar Bears’ other New Hampshire residents are senior forward and tri-captain Jess Cloutier (Bedford), junior forwards Meg Galanos (Atkinson) and Julia Surgenor (Meriden) and junior forward/defender JJ Taube (Hanover).

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