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Friday, December 6, 2013

UNH men’s hockey’s ‘early season’ ends at Boston College

The calendar reads December, but it might as well be March for the University of New Hampshire men’s hockey team.

Thanks to this season’s reduced league schedule, every Hockey East game is a big one regardless of when it’s played. So, even though it’s only the first weekend in December, the home-and-home series against Boston College that kicks off in Chestnut Hill on Friday carries late-season implications in the Wildcats’ hopes for finishing on top of the Hockey East heap. ...

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The calendar reads December, but it might as well be March for the University of New Hampshire men’s hockey team.

Thanks to this season’s reduced league schedule, every Hockey East game is a big one regardless of when it’s played. So, even though it’s only the first weekend in December, the home-and-home series against Boston College that kicks off in Chestnut Hill on Friday carries late-season implications in the Wildcats’ hopes for finishing on top of the Hockey East heap.

When the Eagles’ skate off the Whittemore Center’s Towes Rink around 10:15 Saturday night, the two rivals won’t converge on the same ice slab this season unless they meet in the playoffs. Indeed, as the ’Cats head into the holiday break, they will have already completed half of their Hockey East season of 20 games and will not face again, in addition to Boston College, UMass Lowell, Northeastern and Providence.

Adding to the drama, the 18th-ranked ’Cats sit in second place (5-3-0), one point ahead of the ninth-ranked Eagles (4-1-1), who have played two fewer games. Providence (6-2-0) leads the league, two points ahead of UNH which handed the Friars one of their two loses, a 3-2 overtime victory in Providence two weeks ago.

New Hampshire is coming off last weekend’s successful mountain foray to Denver where they swept unranked Colorado College, 6-2 and 3-0. It represented a nice bounce back after the Wildcats had dropped two in row, including an uninspiring 6-3 home-ice loss to Harvard.

After knocking off Harvard 5-1 in mid-November, Boston College has lost a pair of games heading into its showdown against UNH – 5-1 to Maine in Orono and 5-4 to Holy Cross at home. This week four Eagles were named to the 2014 U.S. National Junior Team preliminary roster. Only defenseman Brett Pesce made the list for New Hampshire.

With the addition of Notre Dame to Hockey East this season Hockey East now has 11 teams. As a consequence, teams now play each other twice instead of three times. That drops the total of league games from the historical 27 to just 20. While this means teams benefit from broader competition, it also means each league contest takes on added importance.

New Hampshire will have its hands full against nation’s top-ranked offense that chips in 4.21 goals a game. By contrast, UNH’s 3.35 goals per game is good for 15th place.

The Eagles are led by talented speedster Johnny Gaudreau whose 12 goals is second best in the country. Throw in 13 assists and he’s nation’s second most prolific points-getter (1.78 per game). Kevin Hayes (1.50) is fourth on that list and Bill Arnold (1.29) comes in at 17th. The highest ranked Wildcat is Kevin Goumas (1.19) at 26th place.

If New Hampshire has an advantage its on defense where the ’Cats rank 11th in the nation led by Casey DeSmith’s strong play in goal. He ranks ninth in both save percentage and goals against average.

UNH’s defensive corps is also more accomplished in the offensive zone with Trevor van Riemsdyk and Eric Knodel among the team’s scoring leaders. Van Riemsdyk is tied for the team lead in scoring with 15 points on three goals and 12 assists. Knodel has nine points on three goals and six assists.

Following Saturday’s 7 p.m. faceoff in Durham, the ’Cats don’t play again until the end of the month when they head to the Florida College Classic for a pair of games that kicks off against Cornell and finishes against either Princeton or Maine.