New Hampshire Struggling To Put It Together
by Joshua Seguin/CHN Reporter
DURHAM, N.H. Throughout the first half of the season, New Hampshire’s defense struggled to stop anyone and the offense was scoring at a pace of more than 3.5 goals per game. You'd think, then, that the recent defensive improvement exhibited by the Wildcats defense would lead to wins, but in retrospect putting the two aspects of the game together has been a challenge.
Riding freshman goalie, Casey Desmith, who took over for senior Matt Di Girolamo in the Frozen Fenway game against Maine, the Wildcats have improved markedly on defense and in goal. This replacement was unexpected given Di Girolamo’s performance last season, but with an .883 save percentage it was a change had to be made.
Desmith has done everything to keep the job and then some. Starting the last seven games, he is 3-5-0 with a 2.20 goals against average and .919 save percentage, which is giving New Hampshire a chance to win every game he plays.
Desmith started both games last weekend against Boston College, two close, evenly-fought games that came down to bounces of the puck that didn’t go UNH’s way.
“I feel for him because he is getting no luck,” said New Hampshire coach Dick Umile. “He is giving us the opportunity to win every time he plays and that’s all we can ask for from him.”
Desmith is a local, which has made his successes an interesting storyline to follow for UNH fans.
In the four games following the Frozen Fenway game, UNH pulled out four solid defensive performances, giving up only five goals. Active sticks, skill, and blocking opponent shots led to them giving up 96 shots, or 24 per game. Defensive efforts such as these were missing for much of the season.
Most of the defensive struggles that New Hampshire experienced, earlier in the season, were defensive breakdowns. Limiting these defensive breakdowns has led to an improvement in defense, but giving up crucial goals in bad times has still plagued the young team all season, including the current three-game losing streak.
“We have had our share of bad luck this season," Desmith said. “When it comes down to it we need to find ways to win going forward. At this point we need to stay serious and realize how dire the situation is to get into the Hockey East playoffs."
Just when it seems as though the right things are happening, one or two quick ones by the opposing team, as happened against Boston College on Friday night, kills any chance of a victory. UNH also allowed OT goals the last two Saturdays. All three losses in their current losing streak have been by one goal.
“On paper we have nothing to show for our strong play recently,” said senior co-captain Mike Borisenok. "If we continue to work hard like we have the wins are going to come and the luck is going to come.”
You can also create your own luck. UNH has had plenty of chances in the past three games to come out with a win. What once was an offense rising through the ranks of Hockey East, has become a one-man offense struggling to score goals.
Stevie Moses leads the team in goals with 18 but the next closest is Grayson Downing with seven. That has to be troubling for a team that was once able to get four lines scoring. Seven of UNH’s last 13 goals scored have been scored off the stick of Moses. To garner any success in the coming weeks UNH will need secondary scoring.
“We have played hard enough to win some games in recent weeks,” said coach Dick Umile. “We do need to finish more when we get out opportunities, no doubt about that. We have had our opportunities in the last few games.”
In Hockey East, eight of 10 teams make the playoffs. UNH currently sits on the outside looking in one point behind Northeastern and UMass. This is unchartered territory for a program that has not had a losing season since 1995-1996.
“Right now on the board in the locker room it says we need to win games and get in the playoffs, said coach Dick Umile, “If we get on a roll we can win the whole thing.”
Winning games won’t be easy in Hockey East, but with the improved defense that UNH has shown in the past few weeks it may be possible to make a run. But time is running out and wins are at a premium. With nine conference games left they still have chances but every game from here on out has to be treated as a playoff game for them. Putting all aspects of the game together will be crucial for New Hampshire in the coming weeks.