UNH Men’s Hockey: 2022-2023 Season Preview

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Andrew Gardner , Sports Editor

DURHAM, N.H.- “Boston College has punched their Charlie card and are headed to Northeastern for the next round of the Hockey East playoffs!” 

It is hard to believe but it has been nearly seven months to the day of the University of New Hampshire’s (UNH) men’s hockey team’s crushing overtime defeat in the opening round of the Hockey East playoffs against Boston College

To say last season was a roller coaster would be an understatement. The Wildcats showed flashes of excellence at times especially at home where they finished with a 9-6-1 record at the Whittemore Center. A 5-game winning streak around the start of the new year was also a high point for the team, although the lows often outweighed the highs as the team finished the year at 14-19-1.  

Playing on the road was the team’s biggest challenge as away from the Whitt the team only managed four wins in 17 games. However, this season there seems to be an increased optimism that the program can achieve its first winning season in nearly a decade. 

With a large group of first-years, the opportunity for players to easily transfer, and the extra Covid year eligibility still in, the Wildcats roster has a drastically different look compared to seven months ago. 

The program welcomes 12 new players this year after graduating the second largest senior class in all of college hockey last season. The group includes eight first years, and four transfers from across the NCAA. Trying to integrate these new faces into the lineup has been an interesting challenge and puzzle for the coaching staff to figure out this preseason, especially on offense.

“There isn’t a perfect answer other than trial and error. We’ve moved a few guys around and we feel that we have a really good handle on who might take a big step forward this year.” Head Coach Mike Souza said as he heads into his fifth season behind the Wildcats bench. 

Both Souza and senior forward Chase Stevenson mentioned that freshman defenseman Damien Carfagna from Wood-Ridge, NJ, has been a standout of the newcomers this fall. With the team returning five of their six main defenseman from last season, Carfagna sounds like the choice to step in as the sixth guy. 

UNH will also be led by a new leadership group this year headlined by captain Chase Stevenson. Last season Stevenson totaled four goals and five points in 33 games for the team. Assistant captains are senior defenseman Kalle Eriksson, senior forward Harrison Blaisdell, and sophomore defenseman Alex Gagne. 

‘It’s obviously a great honor, one of the special things about playing at UNH and one of the reasons I came here was because of the tradition and I’m following a lot of great leaders before me.” Stevenson said. The captain also added that “there are a lot of great leaders in the room, so there definitely isn’t just going to be one voice.” 

Offensively UNH will have some different line combinations after their top three scorers, Tyler Ward, Jackson Pierson, and Filip Engaras either transferred or graduated from the school last year. Souza confirmed that phenom sophomores Liam Devlin and Robert Cronin would be on a line together and even went as far to say that the coaches were trying Cronin out at center, something we didn’t see much of last year. Stevenson and Blaisdell will also be looked upon to increase their offensive production as two of the other key centers on this roster.

In terms of UNH rookies keep an eye on Ryan Black, a senior who transfered from D-III Babson after having a strong season with 18 goals and 38 points in 26 games for the Beavers. First-year forward Stiven Sardarian also got a shout out from Souza as a player to watch early on this season. With all the new faces up front Souza mentioned that the lines could be “very fluid” at the start of the year as they try to find the best combinations. 

Defensively, Gagne and junior Luke Reid, both NHL draft picks, are expected to be the top pair on the blue line for the Wildcats. Erikkson and junior Nikolai Jenson, a common defense set from last year, are also likely to be paired together at the beginning of the year with sophomore Colton Huard and the freshman Carfagna to round out the group of six. 

Goaltending is going to be the most interesting part of the roster to keep an eye on as senior David Fessenden and the highly rated first-year prospect Tyler Muszelik are expected to split time in the early parts of the season. Muszelik is one of the more highly touted goaltending prospects UNH has had the past decade, if not the best, as he was the starter for the USA U18 national team this past year and was selected in the sixth round of this year’s NHL draft by the Florida Panthers. As a true first-year at just 18 years old, six year of age separate the two goaltenders, so it will be interesting to see if Souza rolls with the young gun or the veteran Fessenden who had a 2.19GAA and .909 SV% in nine games for the Wildcats last year.

Overall the players and coaches are confident that UNH can have a breakout year this season, as Stevenson described the team as “the most talented roster” he’s seen during his time at UNH. The media has other ideas as UNH was ranked ninth out of 11 teams in the Hockey East preseason poll.

With a newly refurbished, regulation size ice surface at the Whitt and a fresh group of hungry young players, look for the Wildcats to be a dark horse in Hockey East this year.

Photo Courtesy of UNHwildcats.com: