Power-play woes: UNH, which plays UMass Lowell twice this weekend, hasn’t scored with the man advantage in seven games.
THE UNIVERSITY OF NEW HAMPSHIRE men’s hockey team qualified for the Hockey East playoffs last weekend but it has not looked like a postseason-bound club of late.
The Wildcats (11-12-8, 7-9-5 Hockey East) have lost four of their last five games, including their past three, entering their home-and-home series with No. 14 UMass Lowell this weekend. UNH will host the River Hawks (18-10-3, 12-6-3) in its final regular-season home game Friday at 7 p.m. before playing at UMass Lowell Saturday at 7:15 p.m.
No. 9 Northeastern swept UNH in Durham last weekend, outscoring the Wildcats 12-3 over the two contests. The Wildcats earned their spot in the Hockey East playoffs last Friday, when Boston University defeated Vermont, 1-0, in overtime.
Eight teams in the 11-team conference will qualify for the postseason this year. UNH enters the weekend in eighth place in the league standings and will be on the road for its best-of-three quarterfinal series but can improve its seeding over its last three regular-season games.
“It’s an interesting situation,” UNH coach Mike Souza said. “You get into the playoffs. You don’t win to get in and then you’ve got some games to play before you get in. I want to finish as high as we can in the standings and I want to be playing our best hockey going into the playoffs. In order to do that ... it starts with our game on Friday night.”
The Wildcats will need to improve their power-play efficiency and overall scoring output before the postseason begins.
UNH is 0-for-19 on the power play over its last six games, generating a combined 20 shots on goal over those opportunities.
The Wildcats dropped to fifth in Hockey East and 28th in the country in power-play percentage (19) after going 0-for-7 on the man advantage against the Huskies last weekend. They entered last weekend ranked second in the conference and 16th in the nation with a 20.4 percentage.
Among other issues, Souza said the Wildcats’ power-play unit has not been hitting the net or creating second-chance opportunities in and around the crease during its current scoring drought.
“I think we’ve gotten outworked on it above all,” Souza said. “Credit to some other teams but as much as I love giving credit to the other teams, this one’s on us. We’ve got to be better on it.”
UNH junior forward Brendan van Riemsdyk said the Wildcats’ power-play unit needs to get back to sticking to its game plan.
“We have a lot of success when we just stick to that and just move the puck, get pucks to the net and get those second- and third-chance opportunities,” van Riemsdyk said. “When we start going off script, that’s when we start to struggle.”
Whether on the power play or playing five-on-five, the Wildcats have had difficulty finding the back of the net recently. Opponents have outscored UNH, 21-8, over the past five games. The Wildcats have scored three or fewer goals in each of their last six games.
UNH ranks fifth in Hockey East in scoring offense (2.68 goals per game). UMass Lowell is fourth in the category (2.87 goals per game).
The River Hawks, who rank fourth in the league in scoring defense (2.23 goals allowed per game), have won three games via shutout over their past 10, going 6-2-2 over the stretch.
“I think one of the things in the way they play is you can’t hold onto the puck too long,” Souza said of the River Hawks. “You’ve got to move the puck. They do a really good job in their D zone. They’re pretty structured and detailed and specific in the way they play. ... We’ve been working on some things to try to enhance that area of our game.”
With their Hockey East quarterfinal series set for March 15-17, the Wildcats have a short window to create some momentum and move up in the league standings before the postseason.
“It was a goal of ours — as a staff, as a team — to get into that tournament of eight,” Souza said. “We’re in there. But if we play like we have the last couple games, we’ll be out of there just as quick as we got in there and I think our players are aware of that.
“We just need to sharpen up in a few areas. ... I’m excited to see how resilient we are now.”
The Saint Anselm and Southern New Hampshire University men’s teams will meet for the third time in 15 days when they play in the Northeast-10 Conference championship game Saturday at 1 p.m. at Sullivan Arena in Goffstown.
The rival schools capped their respective regular-season slates with a home-and-home series against each other. The Hawks defeated SNHU, 4-0, at the Ice Den in Hooksett on Feb. 15 and the Penmen won, 3-1, at Sullivan Arena the following night.
Saint Anselm also beat the Penmen, 5-4, at home on Nov. 9.
The top-seeded Hawks (16-12-2) will try to capture a league-leading 11th tournament title on Saturday. The second-seeded Penmen (13-9-4) defeated Saint Michael’s College, 3-2, in the NE-10 semifinals last Saturday behind senior Artem Efimov-Barakov’s game-winning goal that came with 6:05 left.
The Hawks needed three overtime periods to beat Assumption, 2-1, in its NE-10 semifinal bout last Saturday. Freshman Anthony Iacullo scored 2:25 into the third overtime to win it for the Hawks, ending the longest overtime game in NE-10 postseason history.
SNHU coach Sean Walsh and junior goaltender Kurt Gutting (2.13 goals against average, .936 save percentage) were named this year’s the NE-10 Coach of the Year and Goaltender of the Year, respectively. Penmen senior forward Brett Strawn was selected to the All-NE-10 First Team while freshman defenseman Joe Fiorino and freshman forward Jake Cox earned spots on the conference’s all-rookie team.
Five Saint Anselm players received All-NE-10 honors. Forwards Mike Ferraro and Sean Verrier and defensemen Liam O’Sullivan, a junior from North Hampton, and Dave Almeida were selected to the All-NE-10 Second Team while freshman forward Anthony Iacullo was named to the all-rookie team.
Franklin Pierce junior forward Alex Lester was chosen as the NE-10 Player of the Year, becoming the first Raven to receive the award. The Methuen, Mass., resident registered a league-leading 29 points and tied for the most assists in the league (19). Ravens freshman goaltender Kyle Martin was named to the NE-10 All-Rookie Team.
Saint Anselm women take eighth title
The Saint Anselm women’s team defeated Franklin Pierce University, 3-0, in the New England Women’s Hockey Alliance Tournament Championship game Sunday to cap the most successful season in the program’s 14-year varsity history. The Hawks set a program record for wins, finishing the season with a 25-3-1 overall record. Saint Anselm also logged 133 goals and 332 points, both of which are the second-most in a single season in program history.
The Hawks’ NEWHA championship is their eighth postseason title overall and first since winning the 2016-17 New England Hockey Conference Open Championship.
Franklin Pierce concluded its season with a 20-10-1 overall mark, tying the program’s record for wins in a season.
Ravens junior Delaney Guimont, a defender from Bedford, was named to the NEWHA All-Tournament Team after Sunday’s contest. Teammate Haley Parker, a sophomore forward from Londonderry, was named to the All-NEWHA First Team. Parker led the league in scoring with a career-high 40 points (17 goals, 23 assists). Parker’s points and assists marks are both FPU single-season program records.
Amherst College senior Miriam Eickhoff was named to the All-New England Small College Athletic Conference Second Team. Eickhoff, a defender from Hanover, has logged 11 points (two goals, nine assists) and a plus-nine plus/minus mark.
Eickhoff and the fifth-seeded Mammoths (13-10-2) will play at top-seeded Williams in the NESCAC Championship semifinals on Saturday.
The NH College Hockey column runs Thursdays during the season. Alex Hall can be reached at email@example.com.