UNH Men’s Hockey: Wildcats Win their 5th in 7 Games after Weekend Sweep


Evan Mullings, Sports Writer

LOWELL, MA – Oftentimes when you watch a phenomenal game, you’re overcome with the feeling of bliss and Saturday’s University of New Hampshire (UNH) Men’s Hockey team game matched that feeling. The UNH Wildcats (9-18-1, 4-13-1) went into the Tsongas Center and pulled out a gusty 5-4 victory over the #16 UMass Lowell Riverhawks (15-10-2, 9-6-2), who had defeated the Wildcats on back-to-back nights just over two weeks ago. 

For a while, this game felt very similar to the last time these two teams met in Lowell on January 21st when the Riverhawks won 6-2. The Wildcats were able to strike first as freshmen Cy Leclerc tallied his 13th goal of the year as he was able to knife to the middle of the slot and rip a hard shot past one of the best goaltenders in Hockey East in Gustavs Davis Grigals. This put the Wildcats ahead nearly halfway through the first. His 13th goal is the most by a Wildcat since the 2019-20 season when Angus Crookshank tallied 16 for the ‘Cats. The freshmen center has blown away expectations and earned high praise for teammates and coaches.

Head Coach Mike Souza had this to say about LeClerc after Saturday’s game, “He’s got a great release, he’s a cerebral player, got a good stick, knows when to shoot and where to shoot. It’s a great story with him being a local guy.”

About a minute before Leclerc made it 1-0, the Wildcats were getting outshot 10-0 as freshman goaltender Tyler Muszelik who hadn’t started a game since the Union series in late December was tested early. The new top line of Jake Dunlap, Cy Leclerc, and Liam Devlin continued to set a tone. That energy rolled through the next couple of minutes as Damien Carfagna ripped a shot through traffic from the point to make it 2-0 UNH. That was his second goal in as many nights after he won Friday night’s game against Merrimack in overtime on a shot from no angle that got through to end it. 

A powerplay goal in the second period from Carl Berglund gave the River Hawks some life as they pressed the Wildcats’ defense to get back into this game. Later in the period, Scout Truman evened the score up on a similar look to the first goal. It appeared that Muszelik couldn’t pick up either goal as some big-time screens were set up in front of the net. The Wildcats went on to finish the second period without a shot on goal and just like the last time the two teams met in Lowell; it was 2-2 going into the third period.

The River Hawks came out flying to start the third and were able to get ahead 3-2 after Fillip Fornaa Svensson found a soft spot from the slot on a great feed from Jake Stella. At this point in the game, the Wildcats were getting outshot by 20+ and UMass Lowell was dominating possession. The ‘Cats needed a break and got one in the form of a power play about halfway through the third. 

After some puck movement and cycling behind the goal on the Power Play, Damien Carfagna found the puck on his stick from almost an identical spot to his first tally from the blue line. With traffic in front again, he found a lane past everything including the netminder Grigals to draw the Wildcats back even at three. The Jake Debrusk celebration said it all; this guy was on fire.

That energy stuck as the Wildcats continued to press the gas pedal and were soon rewarded. Captain Chase Stevenson gave the Wildcats the lead with just over five and a half minutes remaining on a perfect feed from Stiven Sardarian. Sardarian faked like he was going to wrap the puck around the net but dropped it to the near side for Stevenson to stuff home. Grigals was stuck in a blender and the result was a gaping cage for the captain. 14 seconds later Stevenson did it again on another nice Sardarian feed. This time around, Stevenson made a nice quick play to his backhander from in tight, giving UNH a 5-3 lead. 

Riverhawks Defenseman Jon McDonald would later add a goal, but the Wildcats held on to a 5-4 victory to snag their fifth win in their last seven contests. Tyler Muszelik stood on his head making 40 saves in a gutsy start when his team needed him most. 

This is the best-case scenario for the Wildcats. Your veterans like Chase Stevenson, Nikolai Jenson, and David Fessenden are playing lights-out hockey. LeClerc has been doing it all year but the stronger performances of Damien Carfagna, Stiven Sardarian, Jake Dunlap, and Tyler Muszelik this weekend is what you want to see if you’re a UNH hockey fan. The energy has felt like it’s beginning to shift in the calendar year of 2023 after a shaky start to the season in 2022. 

The Wildcats are back in action this weekend against UConn (17-8-3, 11-6-1) on Friday (7:00 pm) and Saturday (4:00 pm) as they’ll look to build on their weekend sweep of Merrimack and UMass Lowell.

Photo Courtesy of UNH Athletics