By Justin Loring, Sports Editor
After a disappointing end to last season and an offseason marred by the arrest of goaltender Casey DeSmith, the UNH men’s hockey team is ready to focus on its exhibition game this weekend. St. Francis-Xavier, a university from Nova Scotia, comes in with a 2-1 record in the preseason.
With the graduation of a few key pieces, the Wildcats will be looking to fill some key spots. Matt Willows figures to take a wing spot on the top line, but Umile won’t commit to a set line just yet.
“[Practice] has been competitive,” head coach Dick Umile said. “That’s the positive; a lot of spots open and we’ve had a couple of injuries, so they’ve been getting some good reps early on.”
The official start of the season doesn’t begin until Saturday, which means UNH hasn’t been allowed to practice for more than two hours each week.
“We’ve been practicing 40 minutes a day, three times a week. Every team does that.”
The Wildcats will be without defenseman Dylan Maller, who suffered a hand injury and has been in a cast for “a couple of weeks.”
“We’ll try to play most everybody, but how much they play depends,” Umile said. “Next week, [Maller] will be limited because of his cast but he’s the only one won’t play.”
The biggest question surrounding the team is who will step into the starting goalie spot. Junior Jamie Reagan and freshman Adam Clark are currently in contention for the starting spot.
“We’re not quite sure how we’ll do it,” Umile said. “We might split [time], one might play two [periods], one might play one, but they’ll both play.”
Up to this point, Umile seemed content with the effort he’d seen from both Reagan and Clark. When asked what he thought of what he had seen, Umile replied “[They’re] getting better, working at it. At this point, I won’t say who the number one goalie is, but obviously it’s between those two.”
“If they’re both good, we’ve gone with two [goalies in the past]. At the end of the week, I might play one guy two periods and the other one, but I’ll make that decision on Friday.”
On the defensive end, Brett Pesce is the most important piece for the Wildcats. Pesce was a 2013 third-round draft pick by the Carolina Hurricanes and has certainly showed his ability in the last season. During a 10-game stretch between Jan. 24-March 1, Pesce totaled at least one point in each game. Umile compared his importance to that of Trevor van Riemsdyk last season, saying he’ll play “a lot of minutes.”
Umile also felt his biggest concern from the team had to do with the relative inexperience of his defensemen. The team lost two captains and two other starters to either graduation or the NHL last year.
“[Our biggest concern] is definitely on the backline, that’s defense and goaltending, just because they haven’t played. Reagan hasn’t started a game, Clark hasn’t played a game yet. Defense, we have a lot of young guys and we’ll have two or three defensemen in the lineup that haven’t played.”
Jay Camper was excited for the play of the upcoming freshman class and what he had seen from them thus far.
“Having more competitive practices, that’s something we wanted to implement this year. The spots are open, but for guys like us, having that level of competition makes practice a lot more intense and quicker for me and guys like Matt Willows and all the upperclassmen, we’ve enjoyed it and are hoping that be applied to our game.”