By: Joseph Barbito
Head Coach – Dick Umile (27th Season)
Last Season – 11-20-6 (4-12-6 in Hockey East, 10th), lost in conference first round to Merrimack
Losses – F Andrew Poturalski, D Harry Quast, F Dan Correale, F Maxim Gaudreault, F Kyle Smith, F Collin MacDonald, G Jamie Regan
Newcomers – F Brendan van Riemsdyk, F Justin Fregona, F Joe Sacco, F Patrick Grasso, D Anthony Wyse, D Nick Nonis, F Liam Blackburn
New Hampshire’s fall from grace as one of Hockey East’s top programs continued last year after a disappointing 10th place conference finish. Sophomore Andrew Poturalski (22-30-52) was the highlight of an otherwise dismal season in Durham, but he opted to sign with Carolina in the NHL this offseason. For a team that finished first in the conference in power play percentage (23.9%) losing a goal scorer like Poturalski is sure to make itself evident. Forward Tyler Kelleher (18-24-42) and blueliner Matias Cleland (5-22-27) were the next two highest point scorers in 2015-2016 and will try to hold the offense up while Dick Umile looks to find a solution for an aching defense.
New Hampshire came in sixth in the conference in goals per game (3.03), scoring 112 total goals. Coupled with a potent power play, New Hampshire certainly could have won more games if not for poor goaltending and lackluster defense. UNH came in third to last in goals against per game (3.27), allowing 121 goals throughout the course of the 2015-2016 campaign. In a conference filled with top-tier goaltending, Danny Tirone (3.19 GAA, .907 sv%) was not enough to cut it. The Wildcats were 10th in shots on goal differential at -223 and 10th in shots on goal differential per game at -6.03. For perspective, the 9th overall shots on goal differential belonged to Maine with a -40 differential.
The only departing defender is Harry Quast (1-7-8) who was at a +2 overall in 2015-2016, and will be replaced by Anthony Wyse of the USHL Lincoln Stars and Nick Nonis of the BCHL Powell River Kings. Wyse was a high scorer, with 2 goals and 17 assists for 19 total points in 54 games. Nonis is a large defender, and at 6’3”, 201 lbs with 10 points (2 goals and 8 assists) he profiles as more of a stay at home defender than Quast. He did have 58 PIM over 54 games in the BCHL, which can be cause for alarm if he cannot keep out of trouble with the referees. Given that the biggest problems for UNH in the past have been related to defense, it is highly disappointing to see only two recruits being brought in to address this area with both of them on the lower end of defensive recruits in the 2016 entering class.
Keeping in tradition with the current game plan of scoring a lot and trying to cobble together enough defense, the Wildcats have brought in Liam Blackburn of the West Kelowna Warriors of the BCHL. Blackburn scored 27 goals and 47 assists (74 total points) in 58 games, good for 1.28 points per game. The prior year he scored 73 points in 55 games, and all signs point to top-six minutes for the 5’11” forward from Prince George. Patrick Grasso (22-21-43) of Des Moines in the USHL is a bit of an undersized freshman at 5’7” and 174 pounds, so it will be interesting to see how he transitions to the college level. Brendan van Riemsdyk (20-27-47) of the USPHL Islanders will round out the forward class. The youngest of the van Riemsdyk family had penalty issues last season (50 PIM in 43 games), but shows more of a two-way game than Blackburn or Grasso.
Bottom Line: The biggest issue for New Hampshire last season was defense, and very few moves have been made to address that issue. Coach Umile and the rest of the Wildcats coaching staff will have to hope they can provide enough offense between returning scorers like Kelleher and freshman potential in Blackburn. With every team in the conference working to improve their areas of difficulty, UNH will have to look from within to increase their position in the standings this season.