Thursday, July 7, 2016

Know Your Enemy: New Hampshire

This isn't your brother's New Hampshire. This might be your father's New Hampshire - if your father is older. The Wildcats are in a bad way, and some of their very brightest elements of what was a very rough season won't be returning to Durham, which means perhaps now, more than ever, UNH might be depending on some serious production from its freshmen in order to salvage what could be another dark year in the Granite State.

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 (27th season)
2015-16 Record: 11-20-6 (4-12-6 Hockey East, 10th place)
Series: UNH leads, 25-23-0
First Game: February 7, 1964 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: November 24, 2015 (Troy, NY)
Last UNH win: January 6, 2013 (Durham, NH)

2016-17 game: November 22, 2016 (Durham, NH)

Key players: D Matias Cleland, sr.; F Jamie Hill, sr.; F Tyler Kelleher, sr.; D Dylan Maller, sr.; F Shane Eiserman, jr.; D Cameron Marks, jr.; F Michael McNicholas, jr.; G Daniel Tirone, jr.; G Adam Clark, so.; D Matt Dawson, so.; F Chris Miller, so.; F Ara Nazarian, so.; F Marcus Vela, so.; F Liam Blackburn, fr.; F Justin Fregona, fr.; F Brendan van Riemsdyk, fr.

Previous KYE installments:
UNH boasted one of the best lines in the country last year - and little else. RPI got to see that line up close and personal when Andrew Poturalski put the team on his back in Troy and just about single-handedly brought the Wildcats back from a 3-0 hole, tying the game up with a natural hat-trick before Alex Rodriguez's first collegiate goal doomed UNH to their third straight loss against the Engineers.

11 wins last year is the fewest in any season during Dick Umile's tenure. You have to go all the way back to 1988 to find the last time the Wildcats had fewer wins in one season, and almost as far for their previous 20-loss season, 1989. If UNH misses the NCAA tournament this season, the Class of 2017 will be the first to graduate without playing in the national tournament since 1991 - Umile's first season in charge in Durham. He is expected to retire at the conclusion of his most recent contract extension, which runs out in 2018.

The trio of Poturalski, Kelleher, and Dan Correale was simply outstanding, as the three combined for 48 goals (22 by Poturalski alone) and 75 assists (36 by Kelleher). Unfortunately Poturalski is forgoing his final two years of collegiate eligibility after signing with Carolina (the first NCAA player to sign an early pro deal at the end of last season), and Correale has graduated, as has Maxim Gaudreault, third behind Poturalski and Correale in goals for the Wildcats last year.

Forward Warren Foegele's defection to the OHL after one month of his sophomore year certainly hurt as well, and John Furgele, who missed just four games on the UNH blueline in two years, is transferring to Quinnipiac (where he'll be 26 as a senior in 2018 - cue the moans from around the Big Ten). If nothing else, this makes for two more unexpected roster holes that needed to be filled for the coming season, never a good position to have.

Mike Robinson has been described as the "goaltender of the future," and the third-round draft pick of the San Jose Sharks in 2015, was initially expected to bring some badly needed defensive capacity to a program that occasionally looked like it would struggle to keep a beach ball out of the net last year, but after being drafted in the 2nd round of the Phase II USHL Draft in May, it appears he is still another year out after an injury kept him sidelined much of last season. Ditto to Kelleher's younger brother Charlie, taken in the first round of the same draft - he is also a year out.

But speaking of younger brothers, the third and final van Riemsdyk brother - the tallest of the trio - arrives this year. You may remember James (now of the Toronto Maple Leafs) and Trevor (now of the Chicago Blackhawks) both coming through Durham, and Brendan will likely be leaned on to provide some additional offense early in his collegiate career. Adding Blackburn to the fold should also be a solid shot in the arm, as he was one of the top scorers in the BCHL last year, playing for the Royal Bank Cup champions West Kelowna.

There may also be sort of a returning answer in net. Clark hurt his shoulder last year and played in only two games (a scenario that undoubtedly sounds familiar to Engineers fans), and he returns this year as a redshirt sophomore. He's had an interesting college career thus far, coming in two seasons ago for the spring semester as an emergency measure, and then getting hurt last year.

It does seem like any success UNH is going to have in this coming season will bank largely on Clark's ability to live up to his expectations, Kelleher's capacity to function as well as he did last year without Poturalski, and potential contributions from the freshman class. That probably translates to another difficult season in Durham. The Wildcats are a team searching for the bottom, and hoping that last year represented that bottom - but that's far from a given.

This game will be on the road for RPI, and will be the third game in five nights as it comes on a Tuesday following the two home games with Ohio State. We've seen this set-up before, in fact, this will be the third consecutive season that the RPI-UNH game takes place on a Tuesday. The timing should provide a good test for the Engineers' fitness, but much as with OSU, UNH enters this season with too many question marks to make this them solid favorites in this matchup.

Much depends on how the Engineers find goals and how the Wildcats find defense, and we should know quite a bit more about that by the time these teams do battle. But Seth Appert certainly has found UNH's number in the last few years, and there's nothing to immediately suggest that the recent trends are about to change.

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