UNH men’s hockey: ‘Cats are running out of lives as season draws to a close



Joshua Shaw, Sports Writer

DURHAM, N.H. — Over the last five months, the University of Vermont (UVM) Catamounts have had the University of New Hampshire (UNH) Wildcats’ number.  

Last November, after an improbable postseason run, the sixth seeded Wildcats women’s soccer team found itself in Burlington in the America East Championship. In the game’s 79th minute, the Catamounts notched the first and only goal to walk away with a trophy and leave the Wildcats reeling.  

Seven days later, during the men’s soccer finals, the Catamounts toppled the Wildcats men’s soccer team to shatter the hopes of an undefeated season and a fourth-straight America East Championship.  

This streak of losses on the pitch has translated to the parquet courts. Both the Catamounts men’s and women’s basketball teams have beaten the Wildcats and combined to outscore UNH’s programs 105-142.  

While the venue and sport shifted to the rink inside Vermont’s Gutterson Fieldhouse, the results remained the same Friday night. UNH men’s hockey (13-14-1, 7-11-1) dropped their third straight and was shut out for the first time since Nov. 19 in a 3-0 loss to open the weekend and seal a season series loss, proving once more the Catamounts (6-18-2, 4-10-2) reign supreme in the battle of free-range felines.  

Friday’s tilt, however, boiled down to just 28 seconds.  

With 6:36 left in the second period and 34 seconds left a UVM power play, Vermont senior defenseman Joe Leahy received the puck at the point and pivoted it to his forehand. The senior’s shot whizzed by a Wildcats defender before finding the stick of first-year forward Isak Walther. The impact redirected the puck’s path past UNH senior goaltender Mike Robinson to light the lamp.  

22 seconds later, fate seemed to repeat itself. This time Vermont senior defenseman Carter Long struck from the point. The Virginia native’s shot rocketed over Robinson’s shoulder and into the top of his far post to bump the lead to two.  

On Senior Night for the Catamounts, it was only fitting that Leahy nabbed an assist and Long netted a goal, something that delighted Vermont head coach Todd Woodcroft.  

“I’m just tickled for [Long] and for all the seniors tonight to be able to put that together today,” Woodcroft said.  

Meanwhile for the Wildcats, with 26 minutes left in regulation, all signs pointed to another loss. To win, UNH would have had to score more than three goals, something they have not accomplished since Jan. 15, and they would have had to win on the road, something they have only done twice this season.  

Neither came to pass. The Wildcats logged just eight shots in the third, all of which Vermont sophomore goaltender Gabe Carriere turned away en route to his third shutout of the season.    

To call Friday’s result disappointing for New Hampshire is putting it mildly. Heading into the game, UVM was ranked dead last in the Pairwise ranking; a system that compares strength-of-schedule among other teams to predict which teams will make the NCAA men’s hockey tournament. In other words, the Catamounts are considered the worst Division I team in the nation according to that metric. 

And yet, the Wildcats lost – handily. They were outshot, out-blocked, lost the faceoff advantage and outplayed by a team that had lost five of their last six. Vermont entered the weekend as the third-worst scoring offense in Division I and had won five games all season.  

Three weeks ago, the Wildcats had received two top-20 votes in the USCHO Division I Poll and a single vote the week prior. With four-straight losses and a 4-17 goal differential over that time, all of the Wildcats joy had turned into ash. 

The Wildcats quelled those feelings, however, with their performance Sunday afternoon. Despite hosting No. 13 UMass Lowell River Hawks (16-8-3, 12-7-1), UNH dominated the game in a 3-0 win.  

First-year forward Liam Devlin started the goal-scoring with perhaps the prettiest score of the Wildcats’ season. With 8:24 remaining in the second period and 24 seconds left on a power play, the puck found Devlin. The forward turned his back to Lowell’s sophomore goaltender Henry Welsch and backhanded the puck past Welsch’s shoulder to score.  

Five minutes later, UNH doubled up in the second period thanks to sophomore Nick Cafarelli, who got second-line minutes on Sunday afternoon. The forward was in the right place at the right time and pushed the puck into the back of an empty net for his first goal of the season.  

“[Cafarelli’s] always been a very cerebral player, understands the game well,” said UNH head coach Mike Souza. “He’s got a good stick, and it’s nice to see guys like that get rewarded.”  

The two second-period goals represented a change of fortune for the ‘Cats. Coming into Sunday, they had been outscored 11-2 in the last five second periods they’d played, something Mike Souza was aware of.  

“We’ve had an issue during the second period all year seemingly. And we just wanted to make sure that we exceeded our effort and energy and detail that we had,” Souza said. “I thought we went out and executed and the guys did a nice job.”  

Like Friday, two goals were enough to decide the game. The River Hawks failed to amass any strong chances and failed to score, securing Robinson his second shutout of the season.  

“We were outplayed today, and it showed on the scoreboard,” said UMass Lowell head coach Norm Bazin. “We came up with a first period that wasn’t what we were looking for. And that set the tone for the rest of the game.” 

The only thing Bazin wasn’t disappointed with was Welsh’s 33 save performance.  

As for the Wildcats, Souza was encouraged by how the team played following Friday’s failure in Burlington.  

“First of all, you’ve got to give Todd [Woodcroft’s] team a lot of credit on Friday. I thought they played on their toes,” Souza said. “I’m just really happy with the bounce back. We had a real good day yesterday.” 

While UNH alternates the role of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde depending on the venue, Sunday’s win shows what the team can be at its finest: a smothering defensive unit that can win any game on the back of Robinson and some support from their offense.  

“When we’re going, we’re a dangerous team,” Robinson explained. “But I think right now, as we close on the regular season, we just got to keep that consistency keep playing like that.” 

The Wildcats will return to the ice in Orono next weekend to play the University of Maine Black Bears (5-17-4, 3-13-2) in a two-game road series. 

Photo courtesy of Nich Hall