By JUSTIN LORING
A weekend series split with No. 17 Vermont might have helped the UNH’s men’s hockey team with confidence, but, as head coach Dick Umile put it, “It doesn’t help in the standings.” Earning a split gave the ‘Cats two point in the standings, but, had they won the first game, they could have been sitting in ninth place instead of eleventh. Not high enough to host a home game in the Hockey East tournament, but in good enough position to try and jump No. 8 Connecticut, who UNH plays in two weeks. For the time being, however, UNH has its sights set on one of the best teams and players in the nation: No. 3 Boston University and Jack Eichel.
The Next One
Eichel, a freshman forward from North Chelmsford, Massachusetts, has been on pretty much every team’s radar this season, leading the nation in points with 43 (15g, 28a). Eichel is more than likely to be the No. 2 overall pick in this season’s NHL draft, behind only Connor McDavid of the Ontario Hockey League, who is considered to be the next-best prospect since Sidney Crosby in 2005. The 6-foot-2, 194-pound forward has just about every intangible and headlined the U-18 US World Junior team this past December. Despite only tallying 4 points, he was a fixture atop the No. 1 line and was the focus of every opposing defense in the tournament. With a lightning-quick release, excellent vision and large frame, the UNH defense will have its hands full trying to contain Eichel and his 1.72 points per game.
It’s Better at the Top
Much of BU’s success this season (18-4-4) has come in large part to the production of its starters. The top line of Eichel, Danny O’Reagan (18g, 14a) and Evan Rodrigues (12g, 28a) are all in the top 20 for scoring in the NCAA. Starting defenseman Ahti Oksanen is also tied for first in goals (18) and fourth in points (25) on the team, while fellow blueliner Matt Grzelcykis sixth on the team in points with 18 (1g, 17a). While the starters have played outstanding this season, the rest of the team has been fairly pedestrian with only two other skaters having recorded more than 12 points. For comparison, BU has 9 skaters with double-digits points this year, while UNH currently has 7 skaters in double-digits.
Down and Out
Unfortunately for the Wildcats, they will be without alternate captain Grayson Downing, who suffered an ankle injury on Saturday. Umile said the injury was not a break, but classified as a “bad sprain” and said that Downing was in a walking boot. Last weekend, the Wildcats were without defenseman Dylan Maller, who also had a lower-leg injury. Umile was unsure on the status of Maxim Gaudreault, who suffered a shoulder sprain against Notre Dame on Jan. 30, but he ultimately played through his injury.
New Kid on the Block
Danny Tirone has been a breath of fresh air for the Wildcats in net, splitting time with fellow freshman Adam Clark since coming to the team this semester. Tirone has earned a 5-3 record this year, with a .904 save percentage and 2.73 goals against average. Tirone earned wins in his first three career starts, and has helped the ‘Cats earn victories over three ranked teams (No. 4 Nebraska-Omaha, No. 12 Providence, No. 17 Vermont).