Friday night at Appleton Arena in Canton, New York, the Wildcats were once again slow on offense and outmatched overall. The team dropped a decision to the No. 15 St. Lawrence University Saints 6-2, and fans and players were desperate for an answer to their early season struggles.
Luckily for UNH, forwards Patrick Grasso and Tyler Kelleher decided enough was enough the following night.
Led by two goals apiece, the young freshman and senior captain tag-teamed for four points on the night in a winning effort against the Clarkson Golden Knights by a 5-3 final. After previously trailing 2-0, Saturday’s 5-3 win over Clarkson marked the first win of the season for UNH.
“It was a huge win for us,” head coach Dick Umile said following the team’s first win. “We grew a lot, we had some young kids playing out there and I thought they played well.”
Grasso, who stands at 5-foot 7-inches, blossomed in this weekend’s contests. The Ankeny, Iowa native tallied four points overall on the weekend. A goal and an assist versus the Saints as well as two goals vs. Clarkson accounted for a major portion of the Wildcats’ offensive production. The third line forward now leads the team in points with four.
“It just that we got some depth and that we can trust [the freshmen],” Umile said. “They gave us a lot of scoring chances so they’re giving us the depth that we’re going to need.”
Kelleher aslo established himself as a scoring threat. Known for his facilitating tendencies last season, he was responsible for three goals on the weekend, including the game-winning goal at 18:21 in the third period vs. Clarkson. Kelleher knows his responsibility as a team leader and is happy to come out with the win.
“The game of college hockey is really hard but I think our confidence is way higher now,” Kelleher said. “Hopefully we can keep it going.”
Prior to Saturday night, UNH followed a similar pattern to the season-opening loss against Bentley in Friday’s matchup vs St. Lawrence. Failure to sustain offensive pressure led to three goals unanswered goals from the opposition. Jacob Pritchard, Ryan Garvey and Woody Hudson gave the Saints a 3-0 lead at 7:47 in the second period.
Grasso was able to notch one, his first career goal as a Wildcat, at 12:44 in the second frame to give the Wildcats some life. However, the Saints came marching in again as another three-goal burst buried the ‘Cats for good. Kelleher recorded his first goal of the season at 18:27 to end the game with a 6-2 final score.
The following night, and for the third consecutive game, the Wildcats fell in a 2-0 hole when Troy Josephs and Juho Jokiharju gave the Golden Knights the edge in the early going. This time, the ‘Cats clawed their way out. Grasso tallied the first, and Dyan Maller scored his first career goal to tie the game at two. Both teams traded goals in the second, but Wildcats goaltender Danny Tirone made 10 saves in the third period to deny any further progress for Clarkson, and aid Kellher in finishing the job in the win.
After a dissapointing two-game start, the Wildcats were able to bounce back in a major way on the road. The youth of the roster was a frequent culprit of the team’s failures in the first two games, but according to Umile, a win to conclude the weekend split built character amongst the team, and showed the young guys can step up when their number is called.
“I thought it was a good character win for us, coming back especially after we fell behind 2-0,” Umile said. “The guys stayed with it and I was really proud of the way they played.”
The Wildcats return home to Whittemore Center on Saturday, Oct. 22 when they take on Rocky Mountain Adversary Colorado College at 7 p.m. In the last matchup vs the Tigers on Oct. 25 2014, UNH came out victorious in a 6-2 win.