UNH Men’s Hockey: Wildcats Sweep Opening Series

Andrew Gardner, Sports Editor

The University of New Hampshire (UNH) Men’s Hockey Team traveled up toward the Canadian border in upstate New York this past weekend to line up against #17 Clarkson and St. Lawrence. For the second straight year, the Wildcats swept their opening weekend series defeating Clarkson 4-3 in overtime and St. Lawrence 4-1. 

The road to success was tested early this year with a tough matchup last Friday in Cheel Arena against a ranked opponent in the Clarkson Golden Knights. Clarkson finished last season second in the ECAC and has high expectations for this season so the Wildcats would need to come out firing to gain the edge. 

Head coach Mike Souza started senior goalie David Fessenden for Friday’s matchup after there was much deliberation regarding Fessenden and first-year Tyler Muszelik around who would get the start. The Golden Knights came out firing on Fessenden as an early five-on-three power play for the home team resulted in a 1-0 lead thanks to junior forward Alex Campbell. 

UNH’s offense struggled to get anything going for the first 40 minutes as after two periods of play the Wildcats found themselves down 2-0. For a team that won just four games on the road last year, struggled on offense throughout the season, and was 0-13-1 when trailing headed into the third period, the cards were certainly stacked against the Wildcats. 

However, an early goal in the final frame of first-year Cy LeClerc cut the Wildcats’ deficit in half with nearly a full period to play. Clarkson was able to push the lead back up to two just two minutes and 44 seconds later after Noah Beck potted his second of the game. 

The UNH power play was able to get the offense moving again just minutes after the Beck goal as junior forward Nick Cafarelli scored on a beautiful backdoor feed from Ryan Black. Just a minute and 16 seconds later UNH’s captain Chase Stevenson took over and ripped a shot over the glove of Clarkson’s netminder Ethan Haider to even the game at three. The action remained strong through the third period but 60 minutes wasn’t enough to decide a winner as the two teams headed to overtime. 

Once again the power play came through in the clutch as with just 57 seconds remaining sophomore forward Liam Devlin missiled the puck from the top of the left circle into the net to win the game. 

“I liked the way we were competing, I thought we were getting some decent chances.” Head Coach Mike Souza said after the game. “It’s a really nice way to start the year against a really good team” 

The weekend was only half over for the Wildcats as they traveled just 12 minutes down the road to Canton, NY to take on the Skating Saints of St. Lawrence. Souza decided to mix things up against the Saints and put Muszelik in net for his first career start. To say that Muszelik was great was an understatement as he stopped 30 of 31 shots that were thrown his way. The performance resulted in the goaltender winning the Hockey East Rookie of the Week award. This wasn’t the only hardware that UNH took home this weekend as first-year defenseman Damien Carfagna won Hockey East defender of the week after he scored his first career goal on Saturday, posted a +3 +/-, and was impressive on and off the puck. 

St. Lawrence (SLU) played UNH closer than the 4-1 final score may have shown but at the end of the day, the Wildcats were more opportunistic and capitalized on the offensive opportunities they had. 

First-year forward Morgan Winters got the scoring started early for the Wildcats, but SLU tied things up by the end of the first on a PP play goal from Cameron Buhl. From there on out UNH was the only team to find the back of the net as Robert Cronin netted a breakaway PP goal midway through the second period. 

Devlin and Carfagna added goals in the third to balloon the UNH lead up to 4-1, which stuck as the final score and moved the Wildcats to 2-0 on the season.

“To go out and go 2-0, which all of us know you never want to lose weekends in college hockey, you certainly want to do your best to win weekends. For us to have two wins to start the year is great.” Souza said. 

When asked about who may continue forward as the starting goalie, Souza remained vague with his answer saying “I think both guys are capable of starting and winning games for us, so I’ll leave it at that.” 

The Wildcats will look to build on their momentum as they return to Durham and the newly refurbished Whittemore Center for their home opener this Saturday at 7 p.m. against Boston College Eagles. UNH will surely look to avenge their Hockey East playoff loss against the Eagles and when asked about the upcoming matchup, senior assistant captain Harrison Blaisdell said “That game is still fresh in our minds so we’re really excited at having the chance to get one back on them now.” 

You can catch the game against Boston College on ESPN+ but you won’t want to miss the one live at the Whitt as UNH looks to start the Hockey East season strong on the right foot.