After a 3-1 exhibition win over the University of New Brunswick last Sunday, the Wildcats will open up the regular season with a home matchup on Saturday, Oct. 8 vs. Bentley University at the Whittemore Center.
After a rather forgetful end to last season, the ‘Cats, who are ranked 10th in the Hockey East Preseason Coaches Poll, are ready to make another run for the Hockey East crown. A mountain they have not conquered since 2003.
Led by captain Matias Cleland, UNH will welcome Bentley back to Durham for the second consecutive year. In the last matchup on Nov. 28, 2015, the Wildcats edged the Falcons by a 5-4 final score. Cleland had a goal and an assist in the winning effort.
With Marcus Vela out for a long period of time due to injury, the Wildcats have already taken a blow in the offensive arenal. Former forward Andrew Poturalski has taken his talents to the NHL and players such as Maxim Gaudreault and Dan Correale have all graduated and moved on from UNH. Which leaves a great opportunity for the freshman class to make some noise. Liam Blackburn scored two points in exhibiton play, and young players such as Justin Fergona and Joe Sacco have been solid additions. The van Riemsdyk legacy continues as Brendan van Riemsdyk, the last of the three brothers has come to the Whittemore center and has already made an impact, tallying two assists in last week’s exhibition win. Along with returning underclassmen such as Chris Miller and Ara Nazarian, the talent is there, but the execution will be something to look for this weekend.
Cleland is the top returning defender for the Wildcats, who led the NCAA in blocked shots last season with 112. The biggest plus for the Wildcats is having healthy defenseman again. Dyler Maller and Cameron Marks both battled injuries last season and will be healthy come this weekend vs. Bentley. Freshman defenseman Anthony Wyse has impressed the coaching staff thus far. Standing at 6-foot 2-inches, the Newton, Massachusetts native will step into a prominent role relatively quickly for the Wildcat back line, already appearing on a power play unit in an exhibition matchup. The defense struggled with depth and injuries last year, which made for costly mistakes. However, a healthy and full top six group that can establish themselves early can prove to be extremely helpful in securing a home seed in the Hockey East playoffs.
This may well be one of the most interesting aspects of the upcoming season. With Adam Clark and Danny Tirone both healthy, the question remains who will start in net Saturday night, and further. Clark got the start in game one last season, but due to a season-ending back injury, was forced to give up that spot to Tirone. During that time, Clark posted 62 saves with a .939 save percentage in two games played. Tirone in his absence recorded a .907 save percentage in 34 games played, good for 10th in Hockey East. As of now, it’s a toss up who will get the nod between the pipes, but keep an eye on this competitive goaltender battle this season.
The Wildcats welcome seven freshmen to the team this past offseason. Along with Wyse and van Riemsdyk, Patrick Grasso, Nick Nonis, Liam Blackburn and Justin Lazarro are among others that will sport the Wildcat logo this season. There is a lot of promise for the young stars as they will need to transition quickly from their perspective junior leagues to NCAA Division I hockey. This season in particular is a year in which the freshmen will have to step up. Much like Nazarian did last year, there is potential for one or two players from the freshman class to earn him a starting role in some games this season. If the freshmen struggle, the Wildcats could be in trouble down the road.