By JUSTIN LORING, SPORTS EDITOR
If you want to move up in the standings, splitting a season series won’t cut it. That was the theme of Wednesday’s press conference from UNH head coach Dick Umile.
“We had a pretty good weekend of hockey, our trip to Notre Dame was exciting,” Umile said. “I thought we had more chances on Saturday night [a 5-3 loss] than on Friday, but I was very pleased with our effort. I believe we had three goals from freshmen.”
Friday night was the better of the two for the Wildcats, who jumped out to a 4-0 lead, culminating in a 5-2 victory. Saturday night was a bit tougher going back and forth with Notre Dame, until Irish freshman Ben Ostlie scored his first career goal in the second period. Catching UNH in a line change, Ostlie was able to deflect in a puck past Danny Tirone. Umile felt that Tirone could’ve made the save, but ultimately credited Notre Dame for taking advantage of what he considered a “lapse in judgement.”
“They caught us in a [line] change … We had momentum until that third goal, but the whole group played well.”
The Wildcats became victims of a winter storm that pounded the midwest, resulting in the team flights being cancelled and being forced to take a bus back to Durham.
“It was only a 6:30 p.m. game, so we hopped on the bus at about 9. They got us to Ohio, where we switched buses and rode to Buffalo … we then were able to get our normal bus to bring us back,” he said. “They’re probably sick of me at this point, but that’s irrelevant.”
Ultimately, it was a 17-hour trip that the ‘Cats had to endure and they made it back to campus by 3 p.m. on Sunday afternoon. Umile said it was the right decision, as he had former player attend the game as a guest and he didn’t return until Wednesday morning because of the flight cancellations.
A big storyline for the ‘Cats over the weekend was the return (again) of defenseman Brett Pesce. This was the second time Pesce was forced to miss time, having sat out from Nov. 25 to Dec. 30 with a knee issue. This time, it was a respiratory problem that hindered Pesce.
“I had some problems breathing, which is pretty important in playing, or living,” Pesce joked. “[The trainers] didn’t even know exactly what it was. They just instructed me to sit out until I was feeling good again.”
In his absence, defenseman Matias Cleland saw an increase in minutes and filled Pesce’s shoes nicely. Cleland climbed to top-15 in Hockey East in blocked shots per game (1.57). The ‘Cats missed Pesce, allowing an average of 4.5 goals the last four games without him and 3.88 in all nine games he missed this year.
“It felt good to back on the ice,” Pesce said. “It’s been a tough, weird year … Matias and Harry — actually the whole D-corps — have become more confident with the puck. They’re more trustworthy in the defensive zone, and have new responsibilities on the penalty kill and powerplay.”
While the Wildcats have Pesce back, they will be missing two more players this weekend. Dylan Maller is expected to be out with a foot issue and Maxim Gaudreault is definitely out with a “minor dislocation” that he suffered 10 minutes into Friday’s game.
UNH heads to Vermont this weekend, where they have another two-game road series. Umile praised Gutterson Fieldhouse for it’s atmosphere, noting that it’s a “special place.” UNH holds a record of 34-10-4 at Gutterson, and all-time lead the Catamounts with a record of 77-21-6. Vermont is currently No. 17 in the nation (15-9-2, 7-6-1), and it doesn’t get easier for the Wildcats. 6 of their final 8 games come against ranked opponents (Vermont this weekend, No. 3 BU on Feb. 13-14, and No. 18 Merrimack on Feb. 27-28)
Follow Justin on Twitter at @Jlo_TNH.