Tradition has been one of the major staples to UNH hockey. The Wildcats, who stood at 0-2 at home before Saturday night’s matchup vs. Merrimack College, were searching for a way to galvanize the fans and revive the winning tradition at the Whittemore Center.
UNH found its hero on Saturday night, and his name is Patrick Grasso.
Grasso attributed four goals, three in the first period, to lift the Wildcats past their Hockey East opponent Merrimack by a final score of 6-2. Grasso is the first four-goal scorer for UNH since Jan. 14, 2012 when Stevie Moses pulled it off vs. Dartmouth.
“We’re going to hear a lot about him obviously. He’s real clever and he’s got a great stick. He can score goals,” head coach Dick Umile said. “Eight [goals] in six games is pretty good.”
“The thing about [Grasso] is that he doesn’t try to do too much, ever,” senior forward Tyler Kelleher said. “He tries to get better every single day and I think it’s showing on the ice.
Grasso’s night got started in the early minutes of the game. After a opening short handed goal from Kelleher, Grasso buried a shot on Drew Vogler’s blocker side to give the ‘Cats a two-goal edge. At this point, Grasso was far from finished.
His next two goals were made possible through power play chances. The first was a deflection goal in which he whacked the puck out of mid-air into the net off a deflection shot from Kelleher, propelling the Wildcats to a 3-0 lead. Another power play only minutes later secured the hat trick for Grasso, as a rebound chance led to his seventh goal of the season. Grasso stayed quiet through the second, but tallied one more powerplay goal in the third period to score four total during the game, increasing his team-leading total to eight on the season.
“Being off to a hot start, it definitely raises the confidence, and I feel comfortable getting into the games and stuff,” Grasso said. “but the biggest thing for us is just winning those two games, getting on top of Hockey East. That’s huge moving forward for our team.”
Merrimack found the score column in the third period when Marc Biega found an opening past UNH goalteder Danny Tirone to make the score 5-1. The Warriors continued to threaten when Sammy Tavernier added a tally of his own seconds after Biega to shift momentum in their favor and decrease the deficit to three goals at 11:43. With the deficit cut, Merrimack pulled substituted goaltender Craig Pantano, and Jason Salvaggio sealed the first win of the season at the Whittemore Center with an empty-net goal at 19:01.
“I thought it was a good hockey game, you look at the shots they were pretty even,” Umile said. “But to win two games in Hockey East is very very difficult, so we’ll take it.”
On Friday night, the Wildcats played at the Mullins Center in Amherst to take on the Umass Minutemen. For the first time in the season, the Wildcats were the first to score. Michael McNicholas notched one on the man-advantage to give the Wildcats the opening lead. Liam Blackburn scored his first career goal as a Wildcat at 2:59 in the second period. Goals from Shane Eiserman and Dylan Maller capped off a 4-1 victory over the Minutemen, the Wildcats’ first Hockey East win on the season.
UNH will be staying put for a while, as the team will host six out of the next seven games at the Whittemore Center. The first set includes two matchups vs. Sacred Heart University on Friday, and the Mercyhust University the following night on Saturday.