DURHAM, N.H. — For the first time in 580 days on Friday, the UNH men’s ice hockey team (2-0-0, 0-0-0) hit the ice with fans inside the Whittemore Center, and it did not disappoint. The Wildcats started the season off with a two-game weekend series against the Union College (0-2-0, 0-0-0) Dutchmen and were able to defeat them in both contests.
Offensively UNH was able to show their depth this weekend. All four of their lines notched a goal between the two games.
On Friday, 3,409 fans filed into The Whitt to watch the ‘Cats lay a dominant effort into the Dutchmen finishing them off 4-1. Senior Mike Robinson got the start in net and was quickly tested after Union’s first shot from sophomore Gleb Murtzain found the back of the net off a costly miscue from the Wildcats in their own defensive zone. That was the only shot that got past Robinson on Friday, as he stoned the Dutchman on their other 10 picks thrown on net.
The story of the day Friday was the Wildcats’ effort from their defenseman, who despite one mistake were able to shut down Union for the entirety of the game. Depth was also a key piece for UNH in this one as the line tandems of junior Kalle Erikson and sophomore Luke Reid, seniors Ryan Verrier and Will MacKinnon, and first-year athlete Alex Gagne and sophomore Nikolai Jenson were each tasked with incredible amounts of ice time. Despite the one goal Union scored early on, it never felt as if they were in control of the game as the puck primarily stayed in the offensive zone for the Wildcats.
Another strong facet of the Wildcats’ game was their power play. UNH went 2-for-4 on the advantage and controlled the puck for much of these points even when they were unable to put one in.
The Union lead was snapped when first-year forward Robert Cronin lit the lamp on a one-timer off a beautiful pass from senior Jackson Pierson. Cronin’s goal was the first of his collegiate career. Bad news for Cronin, however, Friday’s action was the only time he suited up for the Wildcats this weekend as he was surprisingly scratched from the lineup for Saturday’s game.
“Cronin had a lower body injury late in the game, skated at the morning practice [on Saturday] and our medical personnel and Robert made the decision that he wasn’t going to be ready to go tonight, so we decided to sit him out,” said UNH head coach Mike Souza. “I would classify it as day-to-day right now.”
Another first-year athlete scored his first career goal on Friday, left winger Liam Devlin. The other two goals on the night were scored by seniors Eric MacAdams and Filip Engarås. Senior Tyler Ward also added two assists to the scoresheet while Engarås was the Wildcats’ only other multi-point scorer of the night.
UNH outshot Union 41-11. The Wildcat’s also dominated in faceoffs winning 42 out of 60 on the night including Engarås who won 13-of-16 battles.
“Myself and all of our centers are trying to take pride in winning our faceoffs,” said Engaras. “It’s something that we work on during practice and really take pride in.”
On Saturday, Union made adjustments and challenged the Wildcats harder throughout the night before UNH came out with a 3-2 victory.
In a repeat of Friday’s events Union scored early into the game after just over two minutes had ticked off the clock. UNH had another defensive breakdown in their own zone putting Union up 1-0.
Play continued to go back and forth until late in the second period. Junior Harrison Blaisdell won a faceoff back to Reid who ripped a slap shot over the glove of Union’s netminder to tie the game with just 1.5 seconds left in the second period.
Union played a better and more refined game on Saturday. However, UNH was still outshooting them 24-14 by the time the second intermission came around.
Union came out guns blazing in final frame, scoring in the fourth minute of the period off the stick of junior Dylan Anhorn. This was the first time Union scored a goal all weekend off a sustained offensive zone setup.
The Wildcats started to press more through the period until Engarås scored his second goal of the weekend. He picked the puck up in front of the net off a defender’s skate and buried it in the back of the net.
Heroes often appear at times when you least expect them and senior Joseph Cipollone cashed in on the mantra late in third period. Cipollone, who only had two goals in his collegiate career prior to Saturday’s game, backhanded a rebound in front of the net over the goal line with just 56.5 seconds remaining. The building erupted as the Wildcats drained the last few seconds of the clock to start their season 2-0-0.
After the game Cipollone said, “great shot by Luke Reid to get it to the net and I just scrambled to find the rebound. I saw a little opening in between the goalie’s pad, tried to throw it in there hoped to bank it in and obviously it worked out for us.”
UNH flies out to Arizona on Wednesday before facing the Sun Devils (1-3-0, 0-0-0) of Arizona State on Friday and Saturday. Coach Souza is excited about the opportunity to go out west.
“It’s kind of fun to go out west and take UNH out of New England, which is something that I always take with a lot of pride,” said Souza. “Obviously the Hockey East games are awesome but it’s always fun to play teams from other leagues too.”
The Wildcat’s return to action at the Whittemore Center on Sunday October 24th at 5 p.m. against the Providence College Friars (3-0-0, 1-0-0).