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.

Women’s Hockey Raises Banners, Knocks Off New Hampshire

Image Credit: nuhuskies.com

By Catherine Morrison

BOSTON — Before the puck dropped at Matthews Arena on Sunday afternoon, Northeastern women’s hockey saw the fruits of last year’s labor raised to the rafters of the century-old building. Updated banners reflecting last season’s Hockey East regular season and playoff titles now hang above the ice.

Then this year’s team showed why they might be even better than last year’s, topping the New Hampshire Wildcats 4–1 in their home opener. The Huskies have won their first five games for the first time since 2000–01.

Northeastern spent more than five of the first 20 minutes on the power play. Despite some excellent passes and shots from sophomore forward Alina Mueller — one of which clanged off the pipe — the Huskies failed to convert. Nine first-period saves by Northeastern goalie Aerin Frankel — including five in the first five minutes — kept the game scoreless.

Northeastern defender Skylar Fontaine got aggressive in the second. After two blocked attempts and two misses, she broke the tie with seven minutes left in the period.

The Huskies meshed well throughout, particularly evidenced when a penalty against UNH gave the Huskies 73 second of extra attacker time. The Huskies held the puck throughout the penalty.

Frankel continued to amaze, even getting bonus help from her teammates. When Frankel lost her stick during a UNH power play, defender Mia Brown returned it to her just in time for Frankel to notch an incredible save. On another play, senior defender Codie Cross helped Frankel dismiss an airborne attempt.

In the waning seconds of the second period, the Huskies found themselves short-handed after defender Brooke Hobson was called for tripping. Undeterred, sophomore Chloe Aurard netted a nifty turnaround goal.

Aurard wasn’t done. Seven minutes later, she forced home her second goal of the afternoon and fifth on the year.

With three minutes left in the game, UNH pulled goalie Ava Boutilier in the hope of breaking the shutout. The gamble succeeded, as Nicole Dunbar netted the Wildcats’ first goal of the game. But less than two minutes later, Northeastern’s Veronika Petty negated it with an empty net goal to put the contest out of reach.

The Huskies will look to stay undefeated at Providence on Friday at 6 PM.

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.