UNH Looks to Start a New Chapter
Back in the Tournament, Wildcats Face Tough Field
by Joshua Seguin/Staff Writer
MANCHESTER, N.H. It’s March and New Hampshire fans are again a bit worried coming into the Northeast Regional. Despite every season being anew, the memories of seasons past linger. It is a cruel story at times to them, and it just never seems like a New Hampshire team clicks at the right time — this year may go down as another perfect example of that.
The stories of Frozen Fours more than a decade ago are slowly disappearing. UNH has not appeared in the Frozen Four since the 2003, where the Wildcats made it to the championship and lost to Minnesota 5-1. In their last trip to the NCAA tournament, two years ago, UNH pulled the upset over Miami in Manchester. The win was nothing new, as UNH has three consecutive first-round wins in the NCAA tournament. In all three, they were unable to complete a trip to the Frozen Four.
"We have had some pretty good teams here," said UNH coach Dick Umile. "We have had some pretty good regionals here, but just never seem to get the bounces we need. Whether it was against BU (in 2009) or against Notre Dame (in 2011). All those teams competed hard, and our team likes this venue. Hopefully, the bounces will change in this regional."
Time may certainly be ticking on Umile and his 518 career victories. The storied coach has yet to win the first national championship for his alma mater. The national title has been allusive to the coach, who has seen so much success. From meltdowns in the second round, which has been the norm in recent years, to upsets as the top seed in the tournament, which was an issue in the mid-2000s, the Wildcats story always comes back to one thing — not peaking at the right time.
This year’s team will enter Friday night with similar questions, struggling in the second half of the year — just a .500 team for much of it. Add a first round loss to Providence in the Hockey East tournament. But the losses, if there is any silver lining, were tight losses to teams ahead of them or near them in the Hockey East standings. There was never any doubting if UNH belonged among the league's elite.
"In the beginning of the year, we really wanted to make a statement nationally and within our conference," said UNH forward John Henrion. "We got off to good start and kind of got behind the eight ball in the second half. We feel this is a fresh beginning for us, going into the tournament after we were bumped out of the Hockey East playoffs."
"It seemed like we always fell behind in the second half," said Umile. "We had difficulty scoring goals, and it seems like we were always fighting from behind. We were inconsistent in the second half and goal-scoring became difficult. Our defense was very good in the first, half but we were inconsistent."
In the end, the fans just see losses and wins, not performances. The questions will linger on what to expect with this team until proven otherwise, and the Wildcats have done nothing to stop the uncertainty in recent weeks. It has only fueled the questions.
"I like our team and the makeup of it," said Umile "We found ways to not win games, but it wasn't from a lack effort. We have done what we have to do to prepare, and the team is feeling good — we know what it will take."
UNH enters the tournament with a record of 7-1-1 against teams that are in the tourney, and 4-0-0 against the teams in their regional, but it will not be easy. Its first-round opponent, Denver, is a team that will know them and know what to expect. In late November, the teams battled in Denver. UNH won the contest, 6-4, scoring six of the final seven goals in the game, but it was an atypical game in many ways.
"We fell down 3-0 early in that game," said UNH forward Austin Block. "It kind of proved that we could come back from a deficit, and it showed our true character. It was a true test of character, and it will be a good matchup. We have a lot of similar players, and it should be a good game."
For UNH, earning some wins and clinching a ticket to the Frozen Four in Pittsburgh will be a difficult task. Some may call hosting the regional another source of pressure, but Umile and his team are excited about the opportunity for a special weekend in front of so many UNH fans.
“(Friday) will probably be a great night because Lowell will be here as well,” said Umile “This will be a great regional, and I expect it to be close to a full house.”
The goal for UNH coming into this regional will be to play the defense they did early in the year. That defense led them to three wins against Lowell and many other good wins. If they are able to do that, while receiving solid goaltending from Casey Desmith UNH can make it out of a really tough regional.
Until then the question will always linger. Is this the year for UNH or just another in a series of disappointments?