DURHAM, N.H. – Following a weekend sweep to the Arizona State Sun Devils, where University of New Hampshire (UNH) men’s hockey (2-3-0, 0-1-0) were outscored 10-2, UNH stepped back into the Whittemore Center on Sunday to take on the No. 12 Providence Friars (5-2-0, 2-0-0).  

For the Wildcats, it was their opening Hockey East game of the season, following a 2020-21 campaign where they finished eighth in the conference with a record of 5-13-3.  

Unfortunately for the Wildcats, the team dropped the opener on Sunday afternoon to the Friars 2-0, in a hard fought, gritty defensive battle. The Friars played a detail orientated game which was headlined by junior goaltender Jaxson Stauber, who stopped all 26 shots and notched his fifth career shutout. 

UNH outshot the Friars 26-24 but were unable to generate quality scoring opportunities. UNH head coach Mike Souza says he expected Providence to be a tough team to score against. 

“It’s been a staple of Nate’s teams for years that they don’t give you much. They defend the middle of the rink very well, they have a good goalie, he doesn’t give you a lot of second opportunities and we didn’t generate enough second opportunities,” said Souza. “There’s no moral victories at this level but I thought our push in the third was pretty good, our kids dug in and it certainly wasn’t from a lack of effort.” 

Souza was visibly frustrated, as after Sunday’s shutout. His team has only scored two goals in their last three games.  

“I’m frustrated, the kids are frustrated, but you know what the beauty of it is that we go right back up against these guys next week.” Souza also added, “hockey’s pretty simple, the more pucks you get to the net typically the better the odds are that you’ll create a second opportunity to score. I think we’ve got some guys that certainly are trying, it just hasn’t gone in for them yet, but I expect that it will.  

During the Wildcats three game skid, they have outshot the opponent in every contest. The key to Wildcats lack of offense as Souza mentioned wasn’t from a lack of trying, but rather an inability to generate second chance opportunities off rebounds.  

Flashback to the game winner two Saturdays ago against Union. Senior Joseph Cipollone crashed the net and slammed in a puck with less than a minute to go to send the Wildcat faithful home happy. There were none of those opportunities against Providence, as Stauber swallowed up every shot the Wildcats threw at him, most of which came from the outside of the slot in low opportunity areas.  

Senior captain Will MacKinnon acknowledged this postgame and said the team needs to start creating more opportunities for themselves. 

“We don’t like losing three in a row, that’s never a good thing,” said MacKinnon. “I told the guys that the effort was there, we’re competing hard, but at the end of the day we’ve got to find a way to score more than two goals in the last three games, obviously that’s one of the biggest areas we’ve got to get better at.”  

Despite Sunday’s loss, senior goaltender Mike Robinson played well. He stopped 22 out of the 24 shots taken by Providence. The Wildcats’ penalty kill also played well, killing off all three of the Friars’ power plays. They limited them to just one shot combined across the three of them. The unit also killed off a crucial 5-on-3 disadvantage halfway through the second period when the score was 1-0.  

Senior Jackson Pierson also played one of his best games of the season, recording five shots in the game and leading the effort on some solid power plays.  

Providence has now moved up four spots in the U.S. College Hockey Organization (USCHO) rankings to No. 8 in the nation since Sunday. UNH will travel down to Schneider Arena in Providence, R.I. on Friday before heading back to the Whitt on Saturday at 7 p.m. to play the Friars for the third and final time this year. 

Photo courtesy of Andrew Yourell