by Mike McMahon/Staff Writer
MANCHESTER, N.H. Where has all the offense gone?
That is the question for the New Hampshire Wildcats and their suddenly anemic offense.
Consider this: the Wildcats' top-six forwards combined for 85 goals in the regular season which helped UNH boast the fifth ranked offense in the nation.
In their last three games, those players totaled just two goals — Trevor Smith's in the Hockey East Finals against Boston College, and Mike Radja's in their 2-1 loss to the Miami RedHawks in the First Round of the NCAA tournament.
"We've been playing well," said junior center Mike Radja. "We had our chances. Their goalie (Jeff Zatkoff) made a lot of big saves. He stood up for them when they needed him to and that was the biggest factor in the game right there."
The Wildcats were able to fire 44 shots on net, but the aforementioned Zatkoff stopped all but one.
"I thought that they competed really hard," Radja said. "Every time that we had the puck down in their end, their defensemen, all their guys working low, were right on us putting bodies on us in the neutral zone.
"I just thought that they played really hard on defense."
Zatkoff credits his defense with opening lanes and keeping his line of sight open.
"UNH threw a lot at the net," he said. "I was able to see the puck well and I thought that our team defense did a great job keeping them to the outside.
"The majority of the shots were outside shots, a couple of deflections, but all-and-all, which makes my lift 10 times easier when we keep them to the outside like that. Guys came up with huge blocked shots when we needed them too."
UNH had seven power-play chances and amassed 16 shots with the man advantage.
"They obviously did a great job on the penalty kill," said UNH head coach Dick Umile. "I thought that once we changed things up we had some pretty good zone time and generated some shots. You've got to give credit to their goaltender though; he just made some key saves when he had to.
"They're tough down in front of their goalie and they made it hard for us to get sticks on loose pucks in front. It seemed like all the really big chances we had, Zatkoff made the saves."
Once the Wildcats were finally able to breakthrough Zatkoff, it was too little, too late.
"It was the end of the game so coach told us that we could be offensive on the penalty kill if the situation arose," Radja described his goal. "(Craig) Switzer made a great play to get me the puck. He just threw it up to the middle and I caught it on my stick and at first just tried to get the puck behind the defenseman. I tried to swipe at it and ended up getting a good bounce off my stick and in."
The loss marked the second time in three years that UNH bowed out in the first round while hosting the Regional. It fell to Michigan 4-1 in 2004 at the same Verizon Wireless Arena.
"Everyone's frustrated and bummed at the same time," Radja said. "We don't want the season to end; this is a great team. This is one of the greatest teams that I have played on. It's unfortunate that it had to come to an end and it's just kind of disappointing. That's all we can really say about it."