2020–21 Men’s Hockey East Preview: New Hampshire Wildcats

Last Season: 15–15–4 (9–12–3, ninth in Hockey East)

Head Coach: Mike Souza (third season)

Preseason poll projected finish: Eighth

Departures: G Joe Lazzaro, D Nolan McElhaney, D Max Gildon, D Anthony Wyse, D Matt Dawson, F Justin Fregona, F Joe Sacco, F Liam Blackburn

Additions: G Jeremy Forman, D Alec Semandel, D Nikolai Jenson, D Joe Nagle, D Luke Reid, F Nick Cafarelli, F Tyler Ward, F Carson Richels, F Cam Gendron

By Josh Chaskes

After a disappointing season saw them finish one spot short of qualifying for the Hockey East Tournament, New Hampshire underwent some radical changes. The Huskies lost four of the nine defenders on their roster, only two to graduation, and including the team’s leader in points that year, junior Max Gildon (28 points). Gildon was drafted by the Florida Panthers, while the team also graduated seniors Matt Dawson and Anthony Wyse and lost Nolan McElhaney to a transfer after just one season. They brought in four new defenders to replace them, three of whom are freshmen.

There’s no reason to question their skill, but this group was brought in to replace four defenseman with a combined 12 years of college hockey experience, and it may take them time to settle in.

The difference maker could be the team’s lone senior defenseman, Washington Capitals draft pick Benton Maass. Maass is an assistant captain this season, and one can understand why. He put up 36 blocks, third-most on the team — behind only the graduate Wyse and junior Ryan Verrier — while also contributing 10 points, among them a game-winning goal against Vermont. He also ended with a plus/minus of +6, again behind only Wyse. Maass, with the help of Verrier, will need to step up as a leader and continue to be a rock at the back for the Wildcats while the new defensemen settle in.

As far as forwards, the Wildcats will be looking to build on last season, with most of their main players returning. This includes last year’s top scorer Angus Crookshank (16 goals) and senior stalwarts Patrick Grasso and Charlie Kelleher. Graduate Liam Blackburn’s five goals and 13 assists will be missed, but the team should have the offensive firepower to make up for it. They boast veterans, three freshmen, and Denver transfer Tyler Ward, who tallied 10 goals and nine assists last year as his team went all the way to the Frozen Four.

In terms of goalkeeping, it should be more of the same from senior Mike Robinson, who was the team’s first option last year, posting a save percentage of just below .900.

Bottom Line: The Wildcats enter the season after a big personnel change. Their retention and addition of offensive threats sets their floor at around last year’s ninth place finish, assuming their defensemen don’t acclimate too quickly. But if veteran players like Maass, Verrier, Crookshank, Grasso, and Kelleher spur the new faces to learn fast and play fast, their ceiling could be a few places higher. Don’t expect them to push for the top five or win it all just yet; improvement is the name of the game this season.

Third-Period Comeback Falls Short as UNH Tops Men’s Hockey in OT

By Matt Neiser

DURHAM, New Hampshire — “That effort tonight was unacceptable.”

A clearly irritated Jim Madigan was none too happy with his team postgame, and for good reason. His Northeastern men’s hockey squad had just finished a Hockey East duel with New Hampshire in Durham, and suffice to say it certainly wasn’t their best performance of the season. Despite rallying to tie the game twice in the third period, the Huskies could not cap off the comeback as the Wildcats scored in overtime to claim a 5–4 victory.

Right from the start, Northeastern (13–6–2, 7–5–1 HEA) looked off their game. New Hampshire (11–8–1, 5–5–0 HEA) outplayed the away squad throughout the first period, outshooting them 11–6. The Huskies almost escaped the period unscathed, but a Wildcats goal with less than three minutes to go ensured that the better team went into the intermission with the lead. A flubbed power play one-timer from a teammate fell right to the feet of Eric MacAdams, who slotted home the puck to open the scoring.

If the energy in the first period was a little weird, the energy in the second was downright strange. The middle frame included eight penalties, four for each side, keeping either team from getting into any real rhythm. One of those eight penalties allowed Northeastern to tie the game a little under halfway through the period, as Grant Jozefek tucked home a rebound in front of the net on the man advantage.

The deadlock was short-lived, however, as a Patrick Grasso goal 54 seconds later put New Hampshire back in front.

Madigan said after the game that the officials apologized to him for missing a hitting to the head penalty against Northeastern in the play leading up to the goal. The officials went to video review to check the goal, which allowed them to see the missed call after the fact. “It resulted in a goal then penalty on us . . . so a two-goal swing against us,” Madigan said, putting extra emphasis on the last two words.

The second goal Madigan referred to happened after a wild flurry two minutes later, allowing the Wildcats to extend their lead. With the Huskies already on the penalty kill, freshman Jeremie Bucheler committed a tripping violation, allowing New Hampshire to clear out their goalie and create a six-on-four advantage on the delayed penalty. After moving the puck around for a solid 20–30 seconds, Angus Crookshank found an opening and scored his team-leading 10th goal of the season.

With 40 minutes gone, the Huskies looked dead in the water. They were thoroughly outskated in the first two periods, and a third-period comeback seemed unlikely. Defying expectations, Northeastern emerged with a renewed energy. Tyler Madden scored his 16th goal of the season less than two minutes in, and freshman Jayden Struble followed it up with a goal of his own a few minutes later to even the score.

New Hampshire quieted the run with a Kohei Sato goal at the 7:14 mark, but Matt Filipe answered just 37 seconds later to pull the Huskies back again. Neither team gained ground in the ensuing tug-of-war, sending the game to overtime.

When asked if it was a matter of effort that allowed his team to get back into the game in the third period, Madigan agreed and added that his players stuck to the game plan. “We had a lot of offensive zone possession time in there.”

The Wildcats came into the game with a nation-leading four overtime wins, and they showed why in the extra frame. Dominating much of the possession in the first half of overtime, New Hampshire eventually generated a clean chance as Liam Blackburn found Will MacKinnon streaking into the Northeastern zone down the slot. MacKinnon wasted no time, firing a one-timer past Husky goaltender Craig Pantano to win the game.

“We went into the game with a game plan and we didn’t stick to it,” Madigan lamented, adding that they didn’t play 60 minutes tonight and UNH took advantage. “If we want to get to where we need to get to as a team, we can’t be exchanging goals and giving up five goals in a game.”

Northeastern has a week off between games, with their next contest coming January 18 against UConn at Matthews Arena. Christian Skroce and Matt Cunha will call the game, with coverage beginning at 3:45 PM EST.

Hockey East Preview: New Hampshire Wildcats

Last Season: 12–15–9 (8–10–6, eighth place), lost to UMass Amherst in HE quarterfinal

Head Coach: Mike Souza (second season)

Coaches’ Poll Projected Finish: Seventh

Losses

  • D Richard Boyd
  • F Brendan Van Riemsdyk
  • F Marcus Vela
  • F Ara Nazarin
  • F Chris Miller

Additions

  • D Nolan McElhaney
  • D Kalle Eriksson
  • F Lucas Herrmann
  • F Chase Stevenson
  • F Robby Griffin
  • F Joe Hankinson

By Matthew Cunha

In his first year as head coach of the Wildcats, Mike Souza led UNH to their best win percentage (.458) since 2014–15. In the previous three years, UNH had finished 11th, 10th, and 10th in Hockey East and failed to post a win percentage above .438 under longtime coach Dick Umile.

During a stretch between December 7 and February 1, the Wildcats posted an 8–1–3 record, including a win over Boston College and a tie over 15th-ranked Miami. That run helped them sneak into the playoffs after starting the season 2–7–5. They faced off with eventual NCAA runners-up UMass Amherst and came up just short, losing to the Minutemen in a 5–4 double-overtime thriller in Game 1. They got shelled 6–0 in game 2, but nonetheless it was a positive season for coach Souza.

Last season, nine Wildcats produced more than 15 points; only three (Ara Narzarin, Marcus Vela, and Van Riemsdyk) aren’t returning. Leading the way will be senior Liam Blackburn, who produced 24 points last year. Fifth-round NHL pick and Ottawa Senators prospect Angus Crookshank tied for second in scoring with 23. Fellow rookie Jackson Pierson, third-round pick Max Gildon, and junior assistant captions Charlie Kelleher and Patrick Grasso were the other Wildcats to produce at least 15 points.

With plenty of scoring returning and Crookshank and Pierson likely to take steps forward, scoring should not be a problem this season for UNH. Losing Nazarin and Vela to graduation hurts the Wildcats’ bottom line, but there should be enough firepower to fill those gaps. The good news for Northeastern fans: Brendan Van Riemsdyk, brother of NHL player James Van Riemsdyk, left UNH to play his senior season at Northeastern. 

On the back end, UNH will be led by senior defenseman and captain Anthony Wyse. Last season, UNH allowed 2.86 goals per game, ninth in Hockey East. In the net is Mike Robinson, 86th overall pick of the San Jose Sharks in 2015. Robinson has not lived up to expectations in Wildcat land, finishing 10th in Hockey East in goals against (2.48) and save percentage (.915) last season. Seventh-round Tampa Bay prospect Ty Taylor will back him up.

Bottom Line: The Wildcats’ offensive depth should be fine, as they return six of their top nine scorers plus Angus Crookshank and Jackson Pierson. The concern for the Wildcats is the question marks on the back end, where goalie Robinson has not lived up to his potential. If he can break out as a junior, the Wildcats could be in good hands. In his second season, Souza should continue to improve with a top-five finish in Hockey East.