October 8, 2011 PRINT Bookmark and Share

UNH Blue Liners Look Awfully Green in Loss

by Joe Meloni/CHN Staff Writer

UNH coach Dick Umile thinks his three rookie defensemen will be just fine.

UNH coach Dick Umile thinks his three rookie defensemen will be just fine.

BOSTON — Chris Connolly waited an extra second.

Corey Trivino wasn't there yet. The lane was and Connolly knew it still would be that split second later.

Trivino saw the opening, eventually, circled the net in a flash and angled his stick perfectly to guide Connolly's centering pass into the goal. An easy score for Trivino, an easier pass for Connolly, but one that's rarely so easy against New Hampshire.

On that play, Connolly and Trivino, the most experienced players on the ice Saturday night, tormented UNH freshman Trevor vanRiemsdyk. With Connolly angling at the far circle, just waiting for Trivino to make his move, vanRiemsdyk languished in the slot, dreading the choice he was about to make.

The seniors ultimately victimized the kid making his collegiate debut. But vanRiemsdyk knows nothing is going to change in the next four years.

As do Eric Knodel and Justin Agosta, the other UNH blue liners playing their first real, live college hockey games Saturday night. While Knodel and Agosta are listed as sophomores, Umile held them out of any action last season as a gifted group of upperclassmen manned the blue lines in Durham. The year of practice certainly made them better players, but there's no replacing game time.

"[Knodel and Agosta] got a bit of a feel for it in practice [last year]," UNH senior captain Damon Kipp said. "They were around us, they know the intensity. The biggest thing I noticed when I came in from juniors is that every game is so much more intense. You have fewer games, and you have to be ready for everything. They know that stuff and picked up on it last year where Trevor is just learning it now."

Altogether, 2011-12's first game was one to forget. Combined, the trio rated a minus-4 with Agosta taking two minors in the second period that dented the UNH comeback attempt.

It's a bit unusual for a UNH team coached by Dick Umile to be so reliant on first-year players. The hallmark of Umile's teams in his 22 seasons on the bench has been the ability to shape his recruiting classes perfectly.

After two years in net, a gifted goaltender departs and an able junior is waiting to take his place the following season. His top scoring line typically follows a similar path, with a group of skilled forwards primed for their chance when the puck drops next.

On the blue line, though, there's typically a healthy mix of classes. The makeup of the UNH defensive pairings on Saturday was three players making their collegiate debut, a senior in captain Damon Kipp and juniors Hardowa and Brett Kostolansky. Counting Knodel and Agosta as sophomores, despite their year on campus, isn't particularly fair given the amount of time they spent in ties last season, rather than jerseys. So the Wildcats are essentially relying on three freshmen to play major minutes this season.

Placing sole blame on inexperience won't fly in Durham, though. Few Wildcats performed very well in the 5-0 loss, and Umile knows there were a few other guys on the ice when vanRiemsdyk's misstep let Trivino make it 2-0.

"I thought they played fine. I have to watch the tape, but I thought they were fine," Umile said of his gifted young defensemen. "It's called team defense. We need to do a better job in our own end."

Learning that team defense can be a challenge for any player. While the Wildcat rookies are certainly a gifted group, some of those lessons may come the way vanRiemsdyk learned his first Saturday night — one step forward instead a stride back doubles a one-goal deficit — or the way Agosta earned his first taste — a poor stick foul forcing the Wildcats to kill a penalty instead of trying to cut a deficit.

"It's a learning experience. We definitely showed some of our inexperience back there tonight," Kipp said. "I think those guys are going to learn from it, and they're going to be that much better next weekend. Those things happen when you have young guys back there. I don't think it's something to worry about. They'll learn from it, and we'll be better next week than we were this week."

Next week, the challenge doesn't get any easier, as UNH returns to Boston for its first game with Northeastern before hosting Boston College on Saturday. By then, vanRiemsdyk, Knodel and Agosta will have a few more practices to draw from and a better understanding of what life on the blue line looks like in Hockey East.

As far as Umile is concerned, though, he's just hoping those manning his blue lines look a little less green.  

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