Including the matchup against No. 19 Providence College over the weekend, the next five opponents UNH will face are all currently ranked in the NCAA Division I top-20 as of January 29.
Judging off the performance of the previous two games, the Wildcats certainly have their work cut out for them.
UNH returned to the Whittemore Center and dropped two decisions to the Friars on Friday, Jan. 27 3-0 and Saturday, Jan. 28 3-2. Being outshot 78-50 over the two-game weekend, the ‘Cats were forced to play defensive hockey led by goaltender Danny Tirone who saved 72 of 78 shots. The ‘Cats were held scoreless for four periods of hockey and struggled to develop any solid offensive momentum on Providence. A late rally in the third period of the second game fell short and the ‘Cats walked away empty-handed in terms of conference points.
“We had a difficult time sorting it out, so I give [Providence] credit,” head coach Dick Umile said following Saturday’s loss. “It’s not a great weekend when you get swept. [The Friars] swept UNH here and good for them.”
Much of the trouble came from the Friars’ blue line defensive presence in the offensive zone. This was on full display when the first goal of the weekend was a slapshot off the stick of Providence’s Josh Monk that came with 0.9 seconds left in the first period. From there, the tone was set for Providence to fire away from the blue line, generating numerous shots from the point that gave Tirone and shot-blockers some trouble.
“They win a face-off clean, we don’t block a shot and it’s in the back of the net with 0.9 seconds left… It wasn’t good,” senior captain Matias Cleland said in regard to the goal. “We just got to find a way to put pucks in the net.”
Ryan Tait would go on to score two insurance goals for the Friars to secure the 3-0 victory in game one and their fifth win in conference. In need of a solid response the following night, the ‘Cats kept the Friars at bay by playing a scoreless first period while posting five shots on Friars goaltender Hayden Hawkey. After an opening goal from Brian Pinho, Tyler Kelleher, one of the nation’s leading scorers, once again found the goal column with a power play tally at 18:16 in the second period.
The ‘Cats found themselves down again as two Friars goals put the visitors up 3-1 with a few minutes to spare. A Wildcat rally ensued behind a Whittemore Center crowd and the ‘Cats were on the verge of a breakthrough when Patrick Grasso gave the ‘Cats life and cut the deficit to one with 40 seconds remaining. Ultimately, it was not enough as the ‘Cats ended winless on the weekend.
“We have a lot of experience in our room and we have the older guys telling us ‘you know what? You can’t grip your sticks any tighter because it’s not going to help you,’” Grasso said on the offensive struggles. “We were able to break through [Saturday night], not as much as we wanted to but we got next week.”
With ranked opponent Boston College on the horizon, the ‘Cats will need to find a way to create offense and generate a solid attack to contend with the heavy competition ahead.
“We’re playing unbelievable hockey teams the rest of the way here so we got to start creating more offense,” Kelleher said after Saturday’s loss.
The ‘Cats are back in action at the Whittemore Center on Friday, Feb. 3 when they take on the Eagles at 7 p.m.