DURHAM — They’re coming off a nice run and their most successful weekend in more than a year and the University of New Hampshire men’s hockey team is looking to ride that surge to a strong start to the second half of the season.
The Wildcats take on Bentley University today at 5 p.m. at the Whittemore Center to kick off part two of the 2018-019 season.
First-year coach Mike Souza is excited to see what his team can do as it seeks to build on a sweep of Dartmouth as it headed into exams and a break for Christmas.
“I told the team last night I’m curious to see how mature we are as a team,” Souza said. “To have some success going into the break, to see if we can sustain the momentum that I thought we had built. The break in one sense gave us an opportunity to get some guys back. At the same time, we were happy, I think, as a group, feeling good about ourselves. We have to do a complete restart.”
The Wildcats are expected to have a couple of their top forwards back in the lineup. Sophomore Charlie Kelleher and freshman Jackson Pierson both missed the last several games before the break with injuries.
Junior defenseman Antony Wyse missed the last game before the break as a precautionary measure and is due back as well. Sophomore defenseman Benton Maass remains questionable for this weekend.
The Wildcats are 3-1-2 in their last six games.
“I think our buy-in was 100 percent those last six games,” said senior forward and captain Marcus Vela. “We called it a mini six-game series before the break, which coach was talking about with the team. We had the buy-in all year, we just weren’t getting our bounces. I think by being persistent and consistently doing the right things, it started to pay off for us and we started to see the results we wanted. As long as we keep doing that and we keep focusing on the little details, I think we’ll be all right.”
Freshman Angus Crookshank and juniors Liam Blackburn and Justin Fregona heated up as a line against Dartmouth.
Crookshank had two goals and two assists for four points, Blackburn a goal and four assists for five and Fregona a goal and two assists for three points for the weekend.
“Maybe we found something with a combination of Blackburn and Crookshank,” Souza said. “Obviously, I’ll put them back together with Fregona this Sunday. If we could get some more depth in our scoring, I think that bodes well for us as a team. I’m definitely going to stick with them. I thought they had some nice chemistry there.”
Goalies Ty Taylor and Mike Robinson also had impressive weekends against Dartmouth.
Taylor, a freshman, made 25 saves for his first career win in the Friday night win. Robinson followed with 30 stops for his first career shutout on Saturday. It was UNH’s first shutout since Danny Tirone stopped 25 shots in a 1-0 win over Providence on Dec. 2, 2017.
“I think Michael’s play is a direct result of having Ty push him, and vice versa,” Souza said. “Ty had a nice win up at Dartmouth his last time out. It’s a good problem for me to have. But Michael’s really responded every time he’s been challenged this year. Really maturing as a person and as a goalie. He’s got a bright future. I think both kids do.”
Robinson is fifth in Hockey East with a 2.19 goals against average and fourth in save percentage at .929.
“I think the biggest thing for them is that they push each other,” Souza said. “I think sometimes when they’re in it they don’t realize it, being young guys. We as coaches recognize it and I think the team recognizes it. I’m hoping that continues in the second half.”