New Hampshire Looks to Overcome Early Struggles
by Joshua Seguin/Staff Writer
DURHAM, N.H. It was supposed to be a good season for New Hampshire, picked third in the preseason Hockey East coaches poll and stacked with defensive talent. UNH has a habit in recent years of starting hot, then tapering off. But now, off to a 1-5-1 start, fans are beginning to panic.
"It is a long season," said UNH forward Kevin Goumas. "It is obviously not the way we wanted to start it, but there are still plenty of games down the road."
The Wildcats have played the toughest schedule in the country. Their five losses have come against Rensselaer, Michigan, Minnesota and the last two against Massachusetts-Lowell. Those teams have the talent to go far in the NCAA tournament and could be Frozen Four participants. Even UNH's its lone win came against a Clarkson team that has started the season 8-2-1, with its only loss other than UNH to defending champion Yale. Its opponents are a combined 28-8-4.
"The schedule is the schedule," said UNH coach Dick Umile. "That is who we want to play. We want to play against the best."
"Our schedule hasn't been easy," forward Grayson Downing said. "We think we are a good enough team ot beat all of these teams. We think we should be near the top and we expect win those games."
A strong strength of schedule is great in theory, but losses often breed more losses, which has been the main issue. It's not that it has been playing bad hockey, but then again, UNH is struggling to win so it isn't playing great hockey.
"It's not like we aren't playing good right now," Goumas said. "I think we are playing fine but we have to find one way to get a win, which will get the ball roling from there. Any time you are playing well and not winning it is definitely frustrating."
Said Downing, "We are in a big hole. But we have been playing good hockey. I think that is the positive we can take of it all. We can look at the games we have played bad and kind of throw those out. We played well (Saturday against Lowell). If we continue to do that we will win games because you can't just forget about it and try something new. Eventually we will get wins if we continue to play well."
UNH has two overtime losses, one to Michigan and another to Lowell. It also has a one-goal loss to Minnesota. Score a big goal to tie or a big overtime goal, the wins would be there. But a lack of finishing ability has become the identity of this UNH team. It has been even the more costly in the early going of this season.
"We just have to find ways," said Downing. " This is our second overtime loss. We have to find ways to get that puck in the net, when it counts."
Saturday night against Lowell, UNH demonstrated every struggle the Wildcats have had in one game. Trailing in the third period, UNH again had its chances to tie. It had a two-man advantage it failed to score on, it had many glorious chances and it had many quality scoring chances sent high or wide. Everything temporarily got better with about two minutes to go, as Grayson Downing scored his first of the season to tie the game. But midway through the overtime period, UNH took a penalty, which led to a Lowell power play that its opponent would score on.
Tying the game was like a tease.
"Going into overtime you want to keep the momentum going," said Downing. "Any time you score in the last minutes it is huge becasue it gets the adrenaline going and you get the fans back into the game. Even a tie is better than nothing, though. It is just disappointing to have that kind of outcome after that."
Downing was expected to have a great season, but has struggled so far. His tying goal Saturday night was his first of the season and only his second point. He has probably been the most snakebitten member of the team in the early going. Getting the monkey off his back may not only be good for him personally, but his production is one of the many reasons UNH has struggled in the early going, among many other reasons.
Theoretically, these hard-fought battles will only make the Wildcats better as the season goes on. But the schedule doesn't get any easier, with games against Boston College, Union, Notre Dame, Boston University and Providence ahead.
"We just have to take the positives out of these tough games," Downing said. "We just have to work from there."
The bad start is what no team wants to see, but UNH has the talent to get out of its hole. It has a chance to start that process this weekend with a home-and-home against Massachusetts.
"We will just have to scratch and claw going forward," said Umile. "It is a long season though and we still have time."