DURHAM, N.H. – In an unprecedented season, the University of New Hampshire men’s hockey team is about midway through their season – one that hasn’t been too kind to them. They currently sit at 3-7-1, which has them sixth in the Hockey East above UMass Lowell, UMaine, Boston University, UVM and Merrimack, who have all played less games than the Wildcats.
The first half of the season will be one for the ‘Cats to forget with only three wins in 11 games; the wins came against UMaine, UConn and BC. UNH has picked up points for going to overtime, allowing them to remain in sixth in the Hockey East with 10 points.
This hockey season started later than originally scheduled because of games getting postponed due to positive coronavirus (COVID-19) tests on from the UNH roster. The season started about three weeks late on Dec. 11 instead of Nov. 20, so the Hockey East has had to squeeze games in to a jam-packed Wildcats schedule.
UNH opened up against UMaine and ended up splitting the series, putting the Wildcats in a good spot to face Merrimack and Providence. However, both weekend series got postponed and UNH had to wait until Dec. 30 to get back on the ice. With long layoffs and not being able to practice in full it was a tough road back for UNH.
The Hockey East moving games around gave UNH the opportunity to play during the week and then have a series against another team that weekend. This was a big stretch of games for the ‘Cats as they would face top ranked BC, UMass, Northeastern and UConn. UNH went on to win only two out of the nine games they played during this stretch and lost three games in overtime.
UNH head coach Mike Souza spoke about that stretch and how tough it was on his roster.
“They competed hard; the losses are piling up here, but we knew going into this stretch it was going to be difficult,” Souza said. “Half the team had been off for an extended period of time headed into this stretch.”
During this time, UNH has recorded 341 shots and scored on 24 of them. This averaged out to about two goals per game. Meanwhile, UNH opponents average 3.7 goals per game with a .125 shot percentage, as opposed to UNH’s .070.
It’s not just the 5-on-5 play that has been killing UNH, however, it’s been their special teams units as well. For UNH’s powerplay, they have had a total of 57 chances and have only scored nine times, equaling a .158 conversion percentage. Meanwhile, on the opposite end, UNH opponents have had 49 chances and have scored 15 times, equaling a .306 conversion percentage.
For part of this stretch UNH was without some of their top players due to injury, so as the team get’s healthier, so should their numbers. With only 24 total goals against their opponents’ 41, it is clear that UNH desperately needs their top players including seniors Charlie Kelleher, Benton Maas, Eric MacAdams and junior Angus Crookshank back from injury to be able to compete with Hockey East’s best.
UNH has at least done a good job staying out of trouble and staying out of the penalty box. Compared to their opponents, they only took 54 penalties, and their opponents took 62, totaling 138 minutes of powerplay time for the ‘Cats.
The stretch of tough games doesn’t end here either as the Wildcats will go on to face No. 13 Northeastern, UMaine and BC once more along with a pair of games against BU.
Souza remains confident heading into the stretch and feels the team will get better.
“We have a few areas of our game that need to be better,” Souza said. “As coaches, our goal is to coach better and put these guys in positions to succeed. I told the team after the UConn game our goal is to be playing our best hockey at the end of the year and I’m confident we will be.”
With just 12 games remaining, UNH will need a seismic turnaround to make the postseason.
Photo courtesy of Jack Bouchard