The door has closed on the 2016-17 season for the UNH men’s hockey team. However, for seniors Tyler Kelleher and Matias Cleland, another door has just opened.
Both Kelleher and Cleland signed professional contracts to continue their respective hockey careers beyond UNH. Kelleher signed a deal with the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League (AHL) and Cleland has signed with the Wheeling Nailers of the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL).
The signings came only days after both player’s final game as UNH Wildcats, an 8-2 loss to the UMass Lowell River Hawks in Game 3 of the Hockey East quarterfinals.
Kelleher’s AHL deal was determined in great part to his standout senior year. The 40-game season was a testament to Kelleher’s strength and overall dominance; in his senior season alone, he tied for first in Hockey East with 24 goals and ranked first in assists with 39, and finished with a career high and NCAA leading 63 points.
Kelleher’s consistent success has garnered some well-deserved attention aside from the NHL. He was recently named a 2017 Hobey Baker Memorial Award finalist, making him the tenth in UNH program history to earn that title. Although there’s more voting to follow, Kelleher’s AHL deal alone is indicative of his merit.
In a press conference, Umile expressed his yearning for a comparable freshman prospect to fill Kelleher’s place.
“We’re really going to miss Kelleher. He can score. I always had to tell him to shoot more, because he’d try to set up a play with some fancy pass. He can see the ice and set up plays better than anyone. You want to tell him not to make those plays, but he’s still a threat when he’s out there on the ice doing that.” Umile added, “I’m counting on a few of our freshmen guys to take on a bigger role next year, because [Kelleher] is going to be missed.”
Cleland hit the ice for the Wheeling Nailers on March 17 and made an immediate impact. The stud defenseman, who had three goals and 33 assists in the regular season with UNH, scored a goal in his first shift with the ECHL team.
Umile spoke to Cleland’s impact on the team, and how he contributed to the team’s development.
“Cleland is a captain. He filled that role. Sometimes it comes down to leading by example, and [Cleland] was able to do that. Other players follow him, and he looks up to [Kelleher] for that as well.”