By BRIAN DUNN
On Saturday night, the puck dropped at the Whittemore Center for the start of the regular season, and the UNH men’s hockey team cruised to its hottest start in recent memory, with a convincing opening win over American International College by a final score of 7-3.
Last season, the Wildcats recorded a 5-6-1 overall non-conference record. Hoping to right the ship and improve above .500, the ‘Cats looked to start off stronger than they did last year, against an unfamiliar foe in American International, a team they haven’t seen since 1967.
The beginning of the first period did not go the way the Wildcats would have hoped, as they found themselves in a 1-0 hole early in the matchup.
Junior Austin Orzulak found a lane down the left side of the ice, circling behind the net. He found space near the slot and fired it top-shelf past Danny Tirone to give the Yellow Jackets a 1-0 lead on the Wildcats.
Head coach Dick Umile attributed that opening goal to his team’s lack of defensive effort early in the game.
“The way we played defensively, we have to play better defensively,” Umile said regarding the defensive play of the Wildcats. “Getting behind us and allowing shots in the slot…we need to do a better job there.”
Despite the subpar opening minutes to the game, the Wildcats eventually found the back of the net around the 11-and-a-half minute mark in the first period.
Tyler Kelleher, who led the team in points last season, started his scoring campaign early, as line mate Andrew Poturalski fed Kelleher streaking down the right side. Kelleher got good body positioning on his defender, made a great move past AIC goaltender Alex Murray and buried the puck past the pad to give the Wildcats their first goal of the regular season.
The Wildcat duo of Poturalski and Kelleher was a force to be reckoned with in this matchup. The duo combined for eight total points offensively, recording three goals and five assists. UNH players agreed that they have an unrivaled and incredible chemistry when they are on the ice.
“[Poturalski and Kelleher] are pretty skilled,” senior assistant captain Dan Correale said. Correale plays the wing on the second line with Poturalski and Kelleher. “[Poturalski] is really fast and [Kelleher] is really shifty, so it kind of plays to our advantage a little bit to kind of challenge the D-men.”
“Coming off of last year, we had a good end of the year and I think we are trying to ride that into this year,” Kelleher said, addressing his line’s chemistry. “So far, so good, so hopefully we can keep it up.”
The team looked to build off the goal provided by Kelleher heading into the second period. After a troubling bounce that led to a goal from AIC’s Bryant Christian, the ‘Cats found themselves down a goal again. And only 14 seconds after the second AIC goal, an unfamiliar yet highly skilled star rose to the occasion. Freshman Matt Dawson, who didn’t play in the exhibition matchup last weekend, found the back of the net in his first ever game as a UNH Wildcat, tying the score at two.
“I thought he did a good job,” Umile said, giving praise to his young defenseman. “We thought he did a good job. He’s going to be a good defenseman.”
The rest of the game belonged to the offensive triple threat of Poturalski, Correale, and Kelleher, which potted two more goals. One goal came on the powerplay, and the ‘Cats took a 4-2 lead heading into the third period.
The Yellow Jackets once again threatened to shred the lead, with a highlight reel goal from Johno May to cut the lead to two. The Wildcats ultimately finished the job, sealing the victory with a Maxim Gaudreault empty-netter. Poturalski also scored with 0.2 seconds left in the game to lift the Wildcats past American International 7-3.
The team will host another non-conference weekend, as St. Lawrence and Clarkson will come to Durham Friday and Saturday, Oct. 16 and 17. Both games are scheduled to start at 7 p.m.
Wildcats open with a win
By BRIAN DUNN