UNH Finding Early Scoring Touch
by Scott McLaughlin/CHN Writer
DURHAM, N.H. Despite the fact that New Hampshire returned seven of its top eight point scorers from last season, offense was the biggest question for the Wildcats going into this year. They lost Stevie Moses and his 22 goals to graduation, leaving no one on the roster who scored more than 10 last season.
Through three games, though, the Wildcats' offense hasn't been a question mark at all. In fact, it's been arguably their biggest strength. After potting nine goals in a pair of wins against St. Cloud State last weekend, UNH popped in another four in Saturday's 4-1 win over Boston University.
So where are all these goals coming from? A little bit of everywhere. Boosted by the return of Dalton Speelman — who missed all but 11 games last year due to injury — the top line of Speelman, Grayson Downing and Nick Sorkin has combined for four goals and eight assists.
The second line of Greg Burke, Kevin Goumas and Austin Block has three goals and three assists. On the third line, John Henrion, Jeff Silengo and Casey Thrush have registered two goals and four assists. Even the fourth line, which has featured six different players through three games, got on the board Saturday with a Scott Pavelski goal.
"We knew some of the younger guys would be able to score," coach Dick Umile said. "And we felt that the seniors were going to score. So putting that all together, we just felt that we were gonna have some offense."
UNH isn't expected to get a ton of scoring from its defensemen, but even they have found the scoresheet. Connor Hardowa leads the team with five assists, Trevor van Riemsdyk tallied two goals against St. Cloud State, and Eric Knodel scored a pretty power-play goal against BU.
Speaking of the power play, the Wildcats are a solid 21.4 percent (3-for-14) to start the season. Like the rest of the offense, that was a question mark coming in given that Moses scored seven of the team's 24 power-play goals last year. Umile credited the work of associate head coach Scott Borek and the good decision-making of his players for the early success.
While the offense has exceeded expectations, every other aspect of UNH's game has been as advertised, which is a good thing. The defense was expected to be solid, and so far it hasn't allowed more than 27 shots on goal in a game. The penalty kill was expected to be great after ranking second in Hockey East last year, and so far it has been successful on 14 of 15 chances.
Then there's goaltending. Casey DeSmith claimed the starting job last January and hasn't loosened his grip on it since. He actually wasn't spectacular against St. Cloud State, but he came up big against BU when he needed to. The Terriers didn't get a ton of looks, but they did get 10 shots on goal from the grade-A area, and DeSmith stopped nine of them.
The consistency on the back end has allowed the front line to flourish. Henrion said everyone feels more comfortable knowing that DeSmith is in net, and that allows guys to stay loose and not be so worried about what happens if they make a bad play.
That has been most beneficial in the third period. The Wildcats haven't just sat back and played prevent defense when they've had late leads. They've stayed on the attack and forced opponents to start any comeback attempts from deep in their own zone. Henrion said that is something the team has emphasized in practice.
"I think that's really important," Henrion said. "The last couple weekends we've had kind of slow second periods. We've come out a little bit flat and allowed teams to get back in the game. But in the third period, we've been able to come out on fire. I think you have to finish the full 60 minutes. That's something we focus on here. We work in practice towards that with conditioning and whatever else, and we're ready to go until the final buzzer."