By Justin Loring, Sports Editor
For a deep playoff run, most teams rely on two things: home-ice advantage and a hot goaltender. The UNH men’s hockey team hasn’t lost in a month, thanks in large part of those two criteria.
A lot can change on the road, which might pose an issue for the ‘Cats as they head down to Providence to take on the Friars in a best two-out-of-three series in the Hockey East quarterfinal round. UNH has played six of its last seven games in the friendly confines of the Whittemore Center.
“[We’re] excited, real excited,” forward Jay Camper said. “Not to take anything away from them, I’m sure they love playing at home, but it’s not like they have some crazy fanbase [at Schneider Arena]. It’s more of just playing our own game. We saw tapes of what we need to do against them and just capitalize on it.”
Danny Tirone has continued his hot play as of late, ranking second in Hockey East in win percentage (.750). Tirone owns a record of 12-4, having posted shutouts in two of his last three games and owns an unbelievable save percentage of .953 during the team’s seven-game win streak.
The Friars and Wildcats split the regular-season series, as PC won 1-0 on Nov. 22, but UNH captured a victory on Jan. 13 by a score of 2-1. The series was supposed to take place Nov. 21-22, but an issue with the ice at the Whittemore Center cancelled the Friday night game on the 21st, forcing the teams to schedule a make-up during winter break. Tirone stopped 30 of 31 shots faced in UNH’s win.
The teams have also met in the last two Hockey East tournaments, with UNH winning 3-1 in last season’s semifinal game at the TD Garden and Providence eliminating the ‘Cats in the quarterfinal back in 2013, winning two games to one. UNH holds the all-time playoff match up advantage with a record of 12-6-0.
The obvious difference-maker for Providence this weekend will be goaltender Jon Gillies. The junior has been one of the conference’s leaders in minutes (No. 3, 1863:16) and is tops in the primary goaltending categories. With a goals against average of 2.00 this season and save percentage of .929, he ranks second in both categories among qualifying Hockey East goalies (minimum 40 percent of team’s minutes played), and is also third in overall saves made (817). Gillies has played in all but two of Providence’s contests and holds a record of 19-11-2.
“He’s a well-known goalie throughout college hockey, he has been since [his] freshman year,” defenseman Brett Pesce said. “We know we have to pepper him with shots and get everything to the net because most likely, [we have to score on] a rebound goal. He’s very good.”
UNH head coach Dick Umile reiterated Pesce’s point about Gillies, saying the most important thing this weekend was making Gillies move.
“Screen the net as often as we can, make him go side-to-side. That’ll be our approach, but obviously you need to get into the scoring area first and be there for rebounds. He’s pretty good at stopping the puck when he sees it.”