The wait is over. Hockey season is here.
The Wildcat hockey team kicked off the 2016-17 campaign with the first media day of the year at the Whittemore Center. Head coach Dick Umile, captain Matias Cleland and other Wildcat players came out to share their thoughts on the progress throughout the offseason, and the season up ahead.
“Just looking forward to some challenges, no doubt we have our work cut out for us,” Umile said. “We’re going to have people that will fit into new roles, especially up front as forwards…we’re going to have to replace that.”
The Wildcats had a rough end to last year’s season. Going 2-6-2 in the last 10 games of the regular season, the Wildcats failed to make it past the opening round of the Hockey East playoffs, which could be a good reason why they are predicted to finish as the 10 seed in the Hockey East Preseason Coaches Poll. Cleland made it known, however, that the placement is not a disappointment, rather a motivation tool to prove the critics wrong.
“It doesn’t matter who they’re talking about at the beginning of the year, it’s all about who they’re talking about at the end,” Cleland said. “It’s something that we want to improve on I guess you could say.”
One of the biggest question marks surrounding the team this season is the expectations surrounding the incoming freshman class. As six seniors left last season, seven new freshmen have joined the Wildcat team, looking to make an impact early in the season. Umile notes that some of the young players may be given opportunities to show their skills early on in the regular season.
“We got some speed, we got some size…I think they can add some of the depth we are going to need,” Umile said. “I think we got a little bit of everything in the freshman class. It’s a wait and see and how they compete and figure out the level that they’re going to be playing at.”
Along with the anticipation of young talent making their mark comes the speculation of who will get the nod to start the first game. Senior forward Tyler Kelleher, a top line returning forward who was featured on a line with former Wildcats Andrew Poturalski and Dan Correale, will have to find new linemates to form chemistry with. Ara Nazarian, who played with Kelleher in a couple of games last season, feels the team has come together well thus far, and the chemistry will fall into place.
“I think we all click really well so far,” Nazarian said. “It’s kind of too soon to tell who’s going to be playing with who…everyone’s pretty tight knit.”
The team will hit the ice in front of UNH fans for the first time this season on Sunday, when they suit up for an exhibition matchup vs. the University of New Brunswick at 4 p.m. The regular season gets going on Oct. 8 when the Wildcats welcome Bentley University back to the Whittemore Center for the season opener.