Hockey East Preview: University of New Hampshire Wildcats

Head Coach : Dick Umile, 24th season

Projected finish: Coaches Poll: t-3rd Media Poll: 5th

Last season: 20-12-7 (13-8-6 in Hockey East, 4th); lost to Providence in Hockey East quarterfinals; lost to UMass Lowell in second round of NCAA tournament

Losses: F Austin Block, F Greg Burke, D Connor Hardowa, F John Henrion, D Brett Kostolansky, F Scott Pavelski

Newcomers: D Matias Cleland, D Dylan Mallar, F Tyler Kelleher, F Collin Bourque

Dick Umile’s squad was a force to be reckoned with last year. The Wildcats ranked second in offense (3.13 g/gm), second in defense (2.31 g/gm), first on the penalty kill (90.1%), second on the power play, (19.0 %) and even took the fewest penalty minutes per game in the league (9.3). Kevin Goumas led the way on offense, posting 10 goals and 32 assists. Trevor Van Riemsdyk was a vital part of the defensive corps, earning a spot on the All-Hockey East First team and posting 33 points in his sophomore campaign. Grayson Downing, John Henrion, and Austin Block all had big years as well, with 33, 31, and 26 points respectively. Block, in particular, was a force on the power play, leading the team with six power play goals. New Hampshire’s only true weakness was road games; UNH was 10-4-3 at home and 8-7-4 on the road last season. This has been common for Umile’s teams, likely due to, at least in part, the larger, Olympic-sized, sheet of ice at the Whittemore Center in Durham, NH.

Despite losing two of their top five scorers a year ago in Block and Henrion, as well as an important blue line presence in Connor Hardowa, UNH is once again poised for a successful season. To get there, junior goaltender Casey DeSmith will have to continue his elite play for the Wildcats. DeSmith posted a 2.23 GAA and a 0.924 SV% last year in his second season as a starter. Goumas and Downing will have to continue to post big offensive numbers as well. They could receive tremendous help from Nick Sorkin; the senior posted 9 goals and 26 assists his sophomore season but just 2 goals and 15 assists last season. A full, resurgent season from Sorkin would go a long way to help the offense. Dalton Speelman could prove a key piece as well. The redshirt senior has flashed potential before, posting 6 points in an 11 game, injury-shortened junior season two years ago.  On the blue line, look for senior captain Eric Knodel and Van Riemsdyk to lead the way. However, the Wildcats will need younger players like freshman Matias Cleland and sophomore Brett Pesce to step up too.

Bottom line: The Wildcats will be right in the thick of it in the Hockey East standings, as always. How high they go will depend on whether the incoming freshmen, combined with improved play from returning players, can effectively replace the likes of Henrion, Hardowa, Burke, and Block. More importantly, though, they need to find a way to win games on the road more consistently. Ultimately, expect a top five finish.