By Justin Loring, Sports Editor
Many questions surrounded the UNH men’s hockey team going into the season. Most notably were the issues involving the youth of a team that was bringing in 10 freshmen. Those questions were put to rest on Saturday night, as the Wildcats defeated Colorado College by a score of 6-2. Four of the six freshman skaters in the lineup tallied a point, with Richard Boyd recording his first career point (two assists) during the matchup. All four lines recorded a goal for the Wildcats, with Boyd, Casey Thrush (two assists) and Maxim Gaudreault (two goals) leading the scoring on the night.
“It was nice to be home, and I think the team responded,” UNH head coach Dick Umile said. “It’s an important win to get us back to .500 as we head into league play with Lowell [next week].”
Adam Clark got the start again for the Wildcats, proving to be the starter that UNH has been looking for since September. Clark stopped 22 of 24 shots faced, his third consecutive game recording a save percentage of over .900, now owning a respectable .926 percentage and a GAA of just 2.01 on the season.
UNH dominated the early part of the first period, taking advantage of its special teams chances. The ‘Cats went scoreless on their first two powerplays, but the offense generated a number of scoring chances and looked comfortable possessing the puck. Colorado College also had two powerplays in the opening frame, but were unable to capitalize on the chances. The UNH penalty kill was as effective as it had been all season when shorthanded, going 4 for 4 on the kill and extending its season mark to a perfect 16 for 16.
“We really try to pressure the puck , take away their time and try to force turnovers from there,” Gaudreault said. “It definitely helps [when you score].”
The Wildcats were the first to get on the board during Colorado College’s second powerplay of the game. Thrush forced a turnover and led a 2-on-1 rush with Gaudreault. Thrush put a shot on netminder Tyler Marble, who kicked it out front. Gaudreault beat his defender and put in a backhand shot for UNH’s first goal of the night.
Colorado College’s first good scoring opportunity came with under 30 seconds to play in the period. UNH led an aggressive rush that involved four players crashing in the zone. The Tigers knocked the puck away and it was mishandled by the trailing defenseman. Charlie Taft had the entire neutral zone to himself and went in one-on-one with Clark. Taft faked to the backhand and tried to stuff the puck in on his forehand, but Clark anticipated the move and stoned the shot as the clock approached the end of the frame.
“Clark made a key save; it could’ve been a momentum changer but obviously he made a huge save on the breakaway,” Umile said.
Gaudreault tallied his second of the night in the second period off a play nearly identical to his first goal. Thrush again led the ‘Cats into the zone and put his shot on the ice, leading to a rebound for Gaudreault to tap in. Boyd was credited with an assist on the play, the first of his collegiate career.
“I think I was just in the right spot at the right time,” Gaudreault said. “Casey Thrush did a great job on both those plays, getting the puck to the net, looking for a rebound with a [pass off the goalie’s] pad.”
Colorado College came back just two minutes later, when Cody Bradley netted his fourth of the season. The Wildcats struggled to clear the puck out of their zone, leading to a flurry in front of Clark. Bradley was on top of the crease and pushed the puck underneath Clark’s pads to cut the lead in half.
UNH extended its lead however, scoring two goals in a matter of 12 seconds. Tyler Kelleher took the puck into the Colorado College zone, but circled around when he didn’t have an opening. He then found Boyd across the zone, who ripped a slap shot into a crowd. Andrew Poturalski’s stick made contact with the puck and it found the back of the net. On the ensuing faceoff, UNH’s Kyle Smith took the puck into the zone and fed a wide-open Shane Eiserman in the slot, who buried his second of the season to give UNH a 4-1 lead.
In the third period, Tyler Kelleher notched his first goal of the season. After forcing a takeaway in the Tigers’ zone, Kelleher tried to feed Warren Foegele in front of the net. Foegele mishandled the puck and put a backhand shot that Marble saved, but his rebound fell right to Kelleher. With an open net, Kelleher tapped the puck in to give the ‘Cats a four-goal cushion.
“I’m playing with two really good players: Andrew Poturalski is strong and fast, and Warren Foegele is a young guy but he’s also explosive and fast,” Kelleher said. “I think it’s working out great so far.
“We went up right away, then they started to get the momentum going for them. We got two quick goals, just turned it around and it was over from there.”
The scoring wasn’t done, as Colorado College was able to get one more past Clark. Just 55 seconds later, defenseman Teemu Kivihalme creeped behind the UNH defense into the left faceoff circle. Bradley found Kivihalme with a pass, and his wrist shot went over Clark’s shoulder into the top left corner of the net.
The final blow came with just under seven minutes to play in the game. Willows won the puck off the boards and hit Grayson Downing in front of the net. The initial shot was stopped by Marble, but Downing jammed the puck over his pad for the senior’s second goal of the year.
“I like the personality of the team and they’ve taken it on [this year],” Umile said. “They’re going to play hard, play fast and they were tenacious on the puck. We scored a couple goals because of that [effort].”
Pleased with the fan turnout, Umile added, “The students were great, great atmosphere,” as his final thought.
UNH now turns its attention to a home-and-home series next week with No. 8 UMass Lowell, playing at home on Friday and on the road Saturday.