By Josh Sullivan, Sports Editor
Put your shin guards together, keep two hands on your stick and face towards the defenseman at the point,who’s winding up to take a slap shot. Your goal is to make sure his 90 mile per hour shot hits you in either the shins or your skate. If you’re lucky, the puck will bounce off your shin guards and land in front of you. Those who are less fortunate might end up with a broken stick or a nice puck to the ankle or toe that makes it nearly impossible to stand on both legs. Just ask Boston Bruins winger Gregory Campbell, who became famous overnight after his block broke his leg in the 2013 Eastern conference finals and he played on it for the remainder of the shift.
Blocking shots never landed a hockey player a date with a girl. While the small “blk” at the end of the score sheet isn’t nearly as glamorous of a statistic as goals, assists or even plus-minus, yet in a season that has been full of ups and downs, UNH has been at the top of the leaderboard when it comes to that stat. They currently are tied in Hockey East for third place with UMass Amherst with 480, and are only two blocked shots behind Northeastern. Three Wildcat defensemen rank in the top-10 on the individual shot blocks list: Matias Cleland, Cameron Marks and Brett Pesce rank fourth, ninth and 10th respectively, and have been a huge part of the teams recent defensive success. Merrimack College managed just 27 shots on goalie Danny Tirone on the entire weekend, and just 10 in Saturday’s game.
“They block a lot of shots,” said Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehey. “And when a team does that you have a tendency to second-guess and hold back.”
It’s an aspect of the game to take pride in, especially on a team with two young goaltenders.
“Blocking shots is as good as a goal,” captain Matt Willows said. “It’s a huge part of our game. We have a couple lines of defense before it gets to our goalie, and if it doesn’t get to him, they can’t score.”
Pesce and Cleland are leaders of the d-corps, and not surprising members of the conference leaders list. But the pleasant surprise is Marks, a 19-year-old freshman out of North Vancouver, British Columbia. The former BCHL champion when he was with Coquitlam has played in 34 games this season, and has quietly amassed 10 points while playing on the blue line with either Harry Quast or Cleland during the absence of Pesce. Marks’ favorite athlete? Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, who led the NHL in blocked shots during the 2013-2014 season.
“He keeps it simple and makes all the right plays,” Pesce said of Marks. “You rarely see him make a mistake.”
Friday’s Hockey East tournament game against UConn will be a matchup of two teams that excel at blocking shots. UConn leads Hockey East with a whopping 529 blocked shots, and freshman defenseman Derek Pratt is sixth in the league with 62.