Don’t turn your heads yet. As we get ready to close the book on the 2016 sports season, the UNH men’s hockey team is on the rise and it is not what many expected. At 8-6-2 (5-1-1 in Hockey East) the Wildcats are finding their groove and proving to the rest of the country that they may be a legit college hockey team down the stretch.
After a clean sweep of their rival north of the border, Maine, the Wildcats have won four of their last five games and are second behind Boston College with 11 points in the Hockey East standings. Yes, it is early, but this is not where people projected the Wildcats to start the year. Pre-ranked to finish tenth in the conference UNH has found ways to win when it matters most. Coach Dick Umile in his 27th season alludes to the fact that players from freshmen to senior class have stepped up and believe in one another.
“Going into this year, we lost [Andrew] Poturalski and he was our big scorer and we were young with a young freshmen class coming in playing well for us, but we still have a nucleus of guys,” Umile said. “New spots for new guys and the goaltender is back. We felt good about our goaltender and our defense would be better.”
With victories against Massachusetts, Merrimack, Maine and a gutsy performance against Boston College on the road, UNH has worked its way up the standings early on this season, but still has plenty of big matchups moving forward.
“Obviously the predictions kind of hurt as at the beginning of the year, but we have used that as motivation and to prove everyone wrong. We are off to a hot start in Hockey East and look to keep it going,” junior defenseman Cameron Marks said.
As a team, the Wildcats in November had the nation’s leading point-getter in Tyler Kelleher who now leads the team in points (30) and goals (12) and Matias Cleland who lead the nation in goals as a defenseman. Kelleher is second behind Union College forward Mike Vecchione in points who has 31. Furthermore, the Wildcats have an impressive offense which is ranked 11th in the nation scoring 3.82 goals per game.
Danny Tirone has been turning heads as well. His save percentage ranks 14th in the nation at .921 and 18th in goals against average of 2.27. It has been a collective effort and it has not gone unnoticed by those dedicated to watching their beloved Wildcats play.
For the Wildcats to continue the upward trend, they will have to showcase their impressive conference play on the ice against lackluster non-conference teams. They have been inconsistent in a few of those games this season losing to the likes of Bentley University and Arizona State University. Although, it is college hockey and anything can happen. It will be the test against teams like Providence, UMass-Lowell, Vermont and Boston University, but the team is ready for the challenge.
For now, the Wildcats are on the rise and should be deserving of some votes for a top-25 team in the nation. I have been impressed.
Ben Nawn is a senior communication major. For more stories from Ben, visit our website at TNHdigital.com. Follow Ben on Twitter @nonawnsense. Listen to Ben broadcasting hockey games on 91.3FM WUNH.