UNH men’s hockey: Verrier’s return to lineup helps Wildcats to third place at the Ledyard Classic


Joshua Shaw, Sports Writer



HANOVER N.H. — The University of New Hampshire (UNH) Wildcats (8-10-1, 3-7-1) closed out 2021 with a third-place finish in the 2021 Ledyard Bank Classic.  

The ‘Cats opened up their side of the bracket Thursday night against tournament host Dartmouth College (3-9-1, 2-5-0) with both bragging rights and a championship appearance on the line. However, the offensive woes which plagued the ‘Cats in the first half of the season still appear to be lingering in the team’s system.  

Despite facing a Dartmouth team that ranks 57th in the nation in scoring defense with 4.00 goals allowed per game and has lost five of their last six, the ‘Cats had to scratch and claw to just score one goal. It came, as it has all season, from senior Jackson Pierson.  

While Pierson was credited with his team-leading seventh goal of the season, just as much praise should be heaped upon the shoulders of first-year forward Liam Devlin. The Massachusetts native made a spinning pass that found a streaking Pierson, who glided towards the net before pocketing the puck in low and away.  

As beautiful as a goal it was, Pierson’s marker was all that the ‘Cats could produce. This can be partly blamed on a snakebit offense that failed to score on any of their 36 other shots on goal, something UNH head coach Mike Souza alluded to earlier this week.  

“We’re certainly doing a lot of things to generate or create opportunities,” said Souza. “It’s a matter of burying down in practice. You’ve got to find a way to get pucks to the net, create second opportunities in and around the net, it’s a willingness to do so, it’s a willingness to puck pucks on the net.”  

Preventing the Wildcats from obtaining those second opportunities was Dartmouth’s sophomore goaltender Clay Stevenson. Stevenson was a man possessed in the crease Thursday night, making 36 saves, tying a personal best. Whenever the Wildcats were poised to score, Stevenson or his defenseman – who finished with 18 blocked shots – rose with a silencing rebuttal.  

His save with 4:01 left in the game was perhaps his biggest, however. This time it was senior defender Ryan Verrier with the wonderful pass. From the point, Verrier laced a pass to first-year forward Robert Cronin right in front of the net. Everyone in the arena assumed the puck would find twine. Everyone discounted Stevenson, however, who slid across the crease to smother the shot with his body to keep the Big Green ahead by one goal.  

As Souza said earlier this week, “effort and execution are sometimes two different things.”  

Two minutes later, first-year forward Braiden Dorfman rewarded his goaltender. Dorfman lifted the puck away from the Wildcats, sent it down the length of the ice and into the empty net. Dorfman’s goal made it a 3-1 deficit with 1:25 to go. Only a miracle could turn the tides in Thompson Arena.  

That miracle, as it has been all season, was elusive for the Wildcats, who skated off the ice Thursday night knowing the best they could finish in the Ledyard Classic was third.  

Standing in their way, however, were the Mercyhurst University Lakers (4-11-4, 3-5-4). Like the ‘Cats, the Lakers left Thompson Arena with failure on their tongue Thursday and a taste for vengeance lingering.  

The Friday night affair got off to an inauspicious start for the ‘Cats as the Lakers struck early. Senior defenseman Owen Norton provided the spark, sneaking one past UNH fifth-year senior goaltender Mike Robinson to ignite the scoring.  

Down one goal, UNH called on Pierson once more. This time around, Pierson scored on the power play, ripping a shot from the top right of the faceoff circle. Mercyhurst graduate student goaltender Hank Johnson could only watch as the puck scorched over his shoulder and into the back of the net.  

Sixty-nine seconds later, senior Eric Esposito nicely matched Pierson. The senior forward capitalized on a turnover in front of Johnson’s net and on a second opportunity knifed the puck past Johnson’s reach to take the lead.  

Once the Wildcats took the lead, they never relinquished it. The Wildcats went on to score five more goals – all unanswered en route to their highest-scoring game of the season. The last time UNH was able to tack seven goals on the board was their March 10 game against the University of Maine in the Hockey East Tournament.  

Helping account for two of the seven goals Friday was Verrier. The senior defenseman notched a goal, an assist and two blocked shots, finishing with a +2 plus/minus. It was a welcome sight for the Wildcats, who had been deprived of Verrier for their last 10 games due to injury.   

Likewise, Friday’s offensive explosion would not have been possible without senior forward Filip Engarås, who dished out three assists in the win for a team-high three points.  

The schedule ahead of the Wildcats is at the forefront of Souza’s mind explaining that “it’s all about the second half in college hockey, you know what you do in the second half that’s where our focus is at right now.”  

If the Wildcats could have one New Year’s resolution, it should be games like Friday to become the norm, not the outlier.  

UNH starts their new year next weekend, hosting St. Lawrence University (5-8-4, 3-3-2) Saints and the Clarkson University (9-6-4, 4-2-2) Golden Knights to close out non-conference play.