Thursday, June 18, 2015

Know Your Enemy: New Hampshire

A bit of an odd feeling this year not having Boston University on the schedule. The seemingly annual RPI-BU game has been a fixture for the last couple of decades, rarely taking a year off, but at the very least we do have the almost-as-frequent RPI-UNH game to look forward to again this season. This year the series shifts the scene back to Troy as the Wildcats arrive for a little mid-week action just before Thanksgiving in a more-rare-than-games-against-UNH Tuesday night matchup at Houston Field House.

New Hampshire
Nickname: Wildcats
Location: Durham, NH
Founded: 1866
Conference: Hockey East
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 2013
Last Frozen Four: 2003
Coach: Dick Umile (26th season)
2014-15 Record: 19-19-2 (10-11-1 Hockey East, 8th place)
Series: UNH leads, 25-22-0
First Game: February 7, 1964 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: November 25, 2014 (Durham, NH)
Last UNH win: January 6, 2013 (Durham, NH)

2015-16 game: November 24, 2015 (Troy, NY)

Key players:  F Dan Correale, sr.; F Maxim Gaudreault, sr.; D Harry Quast, sr.; F Kyle Smith, sr.; D Matias Cleland, jr.; F Tyler Kelleher, jr.; F Shane Eiserman, so.; F Warren Foegele, so.; F John Furgele, so.; D Cameron Marks, so.; F Andrew Poturalski, so.; G Daniel Tirone, so.; D Joseph Masonius, fr.; F Marcus Vela, fr.

Previous KYE installments:
Last season got off to a horrible start for UNH a month before the puck dropped as goaltender Casey DeSmith was arrested and charged with domestic assault and battery for an incident that happened in late August. He was suspended and eventually kicked off the team.

That left the Wildcats with basically two options in net for the first semester - freshman Adam Clark, and junior practice goaltender Jamie Regan. Clark had been recruited to back up DeSmith for last season and then eventually Tirone for this year. With the lack of a D-I level second option, UNH accelerated Tirone's arrival for the spring semester, and he ended up playing most of the team's minutes in the second half of the season.

Clark certainly had his struggles. After all, giving up two goals to RPI in late November last year was kind of like giving up four or five to almost anyone else. That was definitely a time when the Engineers had a hard time buying goals, but two was enough to produce a victory for the road team in Durham that night, even despite the injury to Jason Kasdorf that kept him on the sidelines for the rest of the semester.

That's in part because while the Engineers couldn't score goals around that time, neither could UNH. But they picked up their offensive output significantly late in the year, coinciding with better defensive play. The Wildcats won six of eight games down the stretch in February and managed a trip to the Garden for the Hockey East semis after winning a tightly-held three-game affair in Providence against the eventual national champions.

So while it's tempting to point out that they played six games against UConn and Merrimack down the stretch, that series win over Providence has to at least indicate that the Wildcats did in fact finish strong. They'll have Tirone ready to go from the outset this season, although the scoring isn't a sure thing by any stretch of the imagination. Outside of Kelleher (18 g, 22 a) and Poturalski (19 g, 16 a), UNH doesn't bring back a huge chunk of what offense they had last year.

The Wildcats' challenge will be much the same as that of the Engineers over the last couple of seasons - broadening their scoring appeal beyond their top line. If they can manage that they will be a serious threat in Hockey East. If they can't, they're going to have to rely on their defense - which will be young but talented - in order to make waves. Anything and everything can and will happen when RPI and UNH play each other, and while the games haven't tended to produce much in the way of fireworks, they've been unpredictable. The Engineers now ride a two-game winning streak over the Wildcats into this season's game at the Field House, and by that time a battle tested team should, one would hope, be able to run with UNH, especially on their own ice surface.

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