DURHAM — The University of New Hampshire hockey team received immediate contributions from members of last year’s freshman class and coach Mike Souza thinks this year’s incoming group can provide a similar impact.
The Wildcats will add five freshmen this season in forwards Robby Griffin, Lucas Herrmann and Chase Stevenson and defensemen Nolan McElhaney and Kalle Eriksson.
Forwards Angus Crookshank and Jackson Pierson finished among the top six scorers on the team last year as freshmen, recording 23 and 19 points, respectively. Fellow forward Eric Esposito recorded five points (two goals, three assists) and played in every game and goaltender Ty Taylor made eight appearances (seven starts) in their first season as Wildcats last year.
“Last year, to be quite honest, we thought Jackson Pierson and Angus and a couple of the other freshmen could come in and have an impact on our roster right away and they did,” Souza said. “And we think the same thing can happen this year.”
Griffin (6 feet, 185 pounds), who is from Burlington, Mass., recorded 42 points (eight goals, 34 assists) with the Boston Junior Bruins in the U.S. Premier Hockey League’s NCDC Division last year. Herrmann (6-foot-2, 187 pounds), who is from Lancaster, N.Y., registered 22 points (14 goals, eight assists) with the Madison Capitols in the USHL last season. Stevenson (5-foot-11, 175 pounds), who is from West Kelowna, B.C., tallied 53 points (19 goals, 34 assists) in the BCHL last season between his time with the Surrey Eagles and Trail Smoke Eaters.
McElhaney (6-foot-3, 190 pounds), who is from Natick, Mass., played for the Omaha Lancers in the USHL last season. Eriksson (5-foot-10, 175 pounds), who is from Leksand, Sweden, played for both Madison and Omaha last year, logging 36 points (seven goals, 29 assists).
Souza said Eriksson is a puck-moving defenseman who he thinks can really help the Wildcats on the power play.
When forward Filip Engaras is eligible to play following the completion of the NCAA suspension he received last year, Souza said he and Herrmann, who are both centers, will give UNH some size in the middle of the ice.
Engaras (6 feet, 190 pounds), who is from Stockholm, Sweden, missed all of last year due to the suspension, which will conclude after the first nine games of the upcoming season. UNH is in the process of trying to appeal the remainder of Engaras’ suspension, Souza said.
Souza said in January that Engaras’ situation was regarding his amateur status and how the NCAA deemed some games he played in while in Sweden. Engaras practiced with the team all last season.
“We had an opportunity to coach him for a year and I think it’s a great testament to the type of character that he has is that when the ruling came down from the NCAA, he had the opportunity to bolt and he stayed,” Souza said of Engaras. “I think that is just indicative of the type of kid he is. He loves it here. We love having him here. ... I see him as a kid that’s going to constantly evolve here and get better and better and better.”
Griffin, Herrmann, Stevenson and, eventually, Engaras will bolster a UNH forwards group that will not include Brendan van Riemsdyk next season. van Riemsdyk has taken advantage of the graduate transfer rule and left the program, Souza said.
According to one report, van Riemsdyk intends to enroll at Northeastern.
With the additions of McElhaney and Eriksson and the return of veteran Matt Dawson for a redshirt season, Souza said UNH will have nine defensemen on its roster.
As a senior last year, Dawson played in eight games before having season-ending shoulder surgery.
“I’ve always said that sometimes kids meet your expectations, sometimes kids don’t and the beauty of them being here for four years is they have the opportunity to constantly write, rewrite their own script here,” Souza said of this year’s incoming class. “It’s all about getting better and I think they’ll all have a lot to learn but they’ve all played at a high level. They’re all kids that we think can help the program.”