Team of the Week: New Hampshire
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
New Hampshire knew that Colorado College would come in flying. The Tigers were coming off an inspirational two-game home sweep of Minnesota, and were also looking to avenge last season's two losses at home against UNH.
So when CC jumped out to a 3-1 lead in the first period, it was somewhat expected. But the Wildcats were far from done, and once the train got rolling, and the Whittemore Center got rocking, UNH went on to a pair of victories and earned CHN Team of the Week honors.
"We knew going in it was a big weekend, and with CC coming off a huge sweep of Minnesota, they were definitely confident and the hot team coming in," said New Hampshire senior Matt Fornataro, who has followed up a 40-point season by getting four goals and six points in the first three games. "It showed the character in our team coming back both nights, and they were definitely two big wins for us."
"We're pleased," said UNH coach Dick Umile, who earned his 400th win a week earlier. "Any time you can win two games, especially when you have to play someone from the WCHA with that caliber."
New Hampshire figured it would have to rely on defense and goaltending early on, since that is where the most experience lies. And that has worked to perfection early on.
"It's early, we have a way to go. We're getting there," Umile said. "Our strength with goaltending and defense has been important early in the season with five freshmen forwards."
Of course, one of the freshman forwards is James vanRiemsdyk, the second player taken overall in last June's NHL Draft, by the Philadelphia Flyers. He's been every bit as advertised so far, playing on a top line with Mike Radja and Fornataro.
"It's still early and we're still trying to figure things out, but obviously he's a great talent," said Fornataro. "He's big, he's strong, he's fast, he can make guys miss. It's been great to play with him. I feel you can give him the puck and he pushes guys away, he can beat guys with the puck.
"He's a great kid. He's real down to earth. He hasn't let any of that to go to his head. He comes to the rink every day, works hard and has fun, and that's all you can ask for."
Said Umile, "He gets an awful lot of attention. He just wants to fit in with the team. A team player, works very hard, and that's the most impressive part. He's respected by this team because of who he is, not because of where he got drafted."
Of course, Umile is still quick to point out how the other forwards have really risen to the occasion so far this season, replacing a lot of scoring from last year. Guys like junior Jerry Pollastrone and sophomore Peter LeBlanc, who are off to good starts.
"You'd hope you'd be able to do this, but I give credit to our seniors, our goaltenders and returning defensemen," Umile said. "They can cover up a lot of mistakes, play well on the breakout, and our goalies can come up with key saves. So that part's gone well. And the other part we need to happen is in progress and going in the right direction."
The seniors include Craig Switzer and Brad Flaishans on defense, and Kevin Regan in goal. Last weekend, Regan and sophomore Brian Foster each played a game. Regan figures to be the No. 1, but Umile said Foster will see plenty of time.
So far, New Hampshire is having another one of those seasons it seems to always have. Although, since the program has become a dominant national player again over the last 10 years, it still hasn't won a national title. It's something the fans never let them forget, but sometimes it's forgotten just how good you have to be, year in and year out, just to get yourself in that position to come close.
"It's there, but you've got to go step by step," Umile said. "We know where we want to go, but we don't take our eyes off focusing there, but you get there because of the ride, and the ride is all these individual games."
Said Fornataro, "It's a little frustrating (to hear about), but you understand where it comes from because we haven't won the whole thing. It's definitely in the back of the players' minds that it's the ultimate goal. ... You never want to get too ahead of yourself. It's in the back of your mind, but our focus is game to game and to be as good as you can every weekend."