New Hampshire Hockey Column: Wildcats’ offense gone missing

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Cameron Beall

The University of New Hampshire (UNH) Wildcats currently sit at 7-9-1 (3-7-1 Hockey East) midway through their season. The team has pulled off some big wins to this point despite their sub .500 record. They’ve defeated No. 8 Providence, No. 8 UMass each in overtime and No. 16 Harvard again in a scrappy one-goal game. Despite the impressive wins, after a one-point weekend against the Boston University (BU) Terriers, it seems as if this team’s Achilles heel is starting to expose itself more and more. The Wildcats will have about three weeks to find their offense which has gone missing as of late. 

Despite UNH being ninth out of the 11 teams in the Hockey East standings, their offense ranks dead last in scoring with just 1.59 goals per game. This team isn’t just in the basement of Hockey East in this category, but also third lowest in the entire country, only ahead of the first-year Division I program at St. Thomas (1.50) and Alaska (1.33).  

Since the beginning of the season, it’s been evident that the offense would be the weakest link of this squad. There was always hope that they could be a breakout for a five or six-goal game that would serve as a launching pad – that just hasn’t been the case.  

It’s now at a point in the season where one to two goals is the expected output for this team. Which surprisingly hasn’t sunk the team yet because the goaltending and defense has played exceptional hockey this year, especially the last four weeks.  

The team has trouble stringing together wins because of the pressure applied to the goaltenders, defense and penalty kill when the offense goes quiet. The Wildcats needs these units to operate to near perfection every night to have a chance to win. If one unit has an off night, it spells doom for UNH.  

Over the last few weeks, the Wildcats had killed 14 straight penalties including seven in a game against the defending national champion UMass Minutemen. Senior goaltender Mike Robinson was quickly finding his groove, winning back-to-back Hockey East Goaltender of the Week honors, and the defense was shutting down almost any chance that was thrown their way. The penalty kill unit is currently ranked 12th in the country with an 87.7% success rating, a strong total even after a tough weekend against BU. 

Three of the five goals given up last weekend against the Terriers came on the kill. Robinson played well, the defense played well, but the penalty kill wasn’t perfect – a deciding factor in a winnable series as UNH only found the back of the net twice. 

To no one’s surprise, senior Jackson Pierson has emerged once again as the team’s scoring leader, netting six goals in his last 11 games. Besides Pierson there have been a few other players who have been effective on offense such as seniors Filip Engarås, Tyler Ward and first-year forward Robert Cronin, but there is still more to be desired.  

It’s not from an inability to get shots on net. In fact the Wildcats are outshooting opponents 490-431 this year. But the inability to capitalize on second chance opportunities has sunk the ‘Cats offense. 

With a long break ahead of them, the team will have some time to regroup before they set out on a crucial second half with plenty of winnable games to help push the ‘Cats up the standings. 1.59 goals per game is the lowest total for any Wildcat team on record in nearly a quarter century, the second lowest being the 2017-18 team who netted 2.4 goals per game. 27 goals in 17 games just isn’t going to do it in 2021-22. 

This offense isn’t just struggling, it’s in one of the worst droughts in program history. Potentially the worst ever. Things will need to turn around soon or else the second half of the season could go from bad to worse. 

Photo courtesy of Jess Speechley