WHEN University of New Hampshire men’s hockey coach Mike Souza woke up on Dec. 2 last year his team had a 2-7-5 record and had scored more than three goals once in those 14 games.
The Sons of Souza had a close-up view of the Hockey East basement from where they were in the standings that morning. Apparently they didn’t like the look of things, because since then the Wildcats have gone 7-1-3 and moved into seventh place in the 11-team league. Eight Hockey East teams will earn an invitation to the league tournament.
What’s changed since the Wildcats dropped a 3-1 decision to Providence on Dec. 1?
Well, for starters, starting goaltender Mike Robinson has clearly elevated his game. Robinson, a Bedford resident, has three shutouts this season, and all three have come in the team’s last nine games. His 36-save performance in Saturday night’s 6-0 triumph over Connecticut lowered his goals-against average to 2.20 and raised his save percentage to .923.
He’ll likely be in net next weekend when Maine and its fans invade Durham for games Friday and Saturday night.
“Right now, all we’re focused on is Maine,” Robinson said. “I think we have to look forward, not look at the past games. I’m excited for both Friday and Saturday next week.”
The UNH offense has improved as well. The Wildcats have scored at least four goals in seven of their last 11 games.
“I think we’ve found some combinations that seem to be working,” Souza said. “Some players that complement each other well.”
Souza’s best move may have been moving freshman left wing Angus Crookshank to a line with junior center Liam Blackburn immediately after that 3-1 loss to Providence on Dec. 1. Blackburn has collected at least one point in each of his last 15 games and has nine goals and 12 assists during that stretch. He leads the team in goals (10) and points (24).
Crookshank is right behind Blackburn with nine goals and 13 assists. Windham’s Chris Miller, a senior, has been the right wing on the line with Crookshank and Blackburn for the last five games.
“You never know what you’re going to get in terms of production, but we knew (Crookshank) was talented,” Souza said. “We knew he had a high motor, a love for the game. He’s playing really well. He’s really strong on his edges and he and Liam have found some great synergy together. Chris Miller has done a nice job playing with those guys. The two wingers on that line (Crookshank and Miller) can really skate.”
Crookshank has eight goals and 11 assists in his last 14 games. He collected three points (one goal) in his first 10 contests.
“Obviously coming to an older, better league there’s been a adjustment period,” Crookshank said. “Those first 10 games or so were tough. I’m still not satisfied with where I’m at. I still have to work on some things within my game and I hope to continue to be better. Just my play away from the puck. Capitalizing on my opportunities when I do get them.”
Crookshank had a goal and an assist in Saturday night’s win. He also drew a penalty late in the first period that led to a power-play goal early in the second. That goal seemed to energize the Wildcats, who scored two more goals in the second and three in the third.
“I think this was a big step for us,” Crookshank said following Saturday’s victory. “Coming off a game where we thought we weren’t as sharp as we have been in the past (Friday night’s 2-2 tie with UConn). Responding and having a really good game shows the maturity of our team. Everything is coming together at the right time.”
WE don’t know who UNH’s starting quarterback will be when the Wildcats open their 2019 schedule against Holy Cross, but we do know one player it won’t be: Christian Lupoli.
Lupoli played in four games last season after starting QB Trevor Knight sustained a shoulder injury in UNH’s opener at Maine, and, since Knight has graduated, he figured to be in the mix for the starting job this season. Lupoli has transferred to Division II New Haven, however, where he will have two years of eligibility remaining.
Lupoli, who played high school football in Connecticut, completed 48 of 95 passes with two touchdowns and two interceptions last season. As a freshmanm he came on in relief after an injury to Knight and completed 8 of 10 passes, including a 9-yard touchdown pass to Malik Love, in UNH’s 21-15 NCAA FCS tournament victory at Central Arkansas. Lupoli made eight appearances as a freshman and completed 13 of 28 passes for 95 yards with one TD and one interception.
Sophomore Tommy Herrion, sophomore and St. Thomas Aquinas grad Stephen Hedberg, true freshman Max Brosmer and redshirt freshman Bret Edwards are the quarterbacks on the current UNH roster. Merrimack Valley graduate Ivan Niyomugabo is also listed as a QB, but played primarily wide receiver last season. Brosmer, who played for Centennial High School in Roswell, Ga., last season, is already taking classes at UNH.
WE could have a matchup between the only unbeaten boys’ basketball teams in Division I Friday night when Winnacunnet (8-0) plays at Exeter (8-0). Winnacunnet has a high hurdle to clear Tuesday, when it plays at Salem (7-1). Exeter will be at home against Goffstown (3-5) Tuesday night.
Whether it’s a battle of unbeatens or not, Friday night’s game is sure to attract the largest crowd of any NHIAA regular-season game this season.
WEARE’S Parker McQuarrie added to his collection of Division I scholarship offers last week when he picked up offers from UCLA and Syracuse. UCLA head coach Chip Kelly made his offer Tuesday morning when he visited McQuarrie, a 6-foot-7, 225-pound quarterback, at the St. Paul’s School in Concord. Syracuse offered later that day.
McQuarrie played at John Stark during his sophomore and junior seasons, before he transferred to St. Paul’s, where he is repeating his junior year. He also has offers from Boston College, Michigan, Purdue, Rutgers, Wisconsin and Rhode Island.
“I really don’t have a certain date (to make his college choice),” McQuarrie said. “It’ll probably be when I get a feel for a school where I feel I belong.”
ATTENTION NHIAA softball coaches: The 2019 New Hampshire Softball Coaches’ Association annual meeting will be March 10 at NHTI in Concord. Doors open at 8:30 a.m.