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UNH knows Denver has mile-high talent

DURHAM – The University of New Hampshire men’s hockey team knows it will have its hands full when it squares off against the University of Denver in the NCAA national championship regional playoffs Friday night in Manchester.

The Wildcats defeated the Pioneers four months ago in the thin Colorado air, but it wasn’t easy. Denver jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the game’s first nine minutes on just eight shots, sending UNH netminder Casey DeSmith to the bench.

Still trailing by a pair of goals after two periods, the ’Cats rallied to score four times in the final stanza to secure an dramatic 6-4 victory. Kevin Goumas’ game-winner came with less than three minutes remaining in regulation.

“They are a very good team they came out there hot from the start and we went down early,” UNH sophomore defender and first-team Hockey East all-star Trevor van Riemsdyk said. “They are a skilled team, a physical team, so the quicker we play,
the harder we play will make it more difficult for them.”

“We can’t give them any chances in tight. They have some guys with a lot of skill up front and their defense can bring the offense too,” senior captain Connor Hardowa said. “They’re just an all around good team. We’re going to have to penetrate their defense the best we can and get as many shot on net as we can too.”

The teams face off at 8 p.m. at the Verizon Wireless Center. UMass-Lowell takes on Wisconsin at 4:30 p.m. in the other quarterfinal regional contest. The winners meet Saturday at 6:30 p.m. for a berth in the Frozen Four set for April 11 in Pittsburgh.

Denver can credit much of its success to a well-balanced attack. Although it ranks third in the nation in offense, leading scorer Nick Shore’s 33 points doesn’t even break into the top 50 list. Six Pioneers have at least 10 goals, but none more than 15.

By comparison, UNH ranks 12th in offense with Downing and Austin Block topping the goals scored list with 15 each. Goumas leads the team with 32 points thanks to his impressive 32 assists.

Obviously, because of his shaky performance in November, pre-game chatter has focused on how DeSmith with react in
his first NCAA tournament appearance.

“That game, the first couple goals were lucky bounces, they weren’t his fault. But he always bounces back,” van Riemsdyk said. “He’s a team-first guy so I think he was more concerned that we were down 3-0 than any individual stats. He just really wants to win.”

“Casey’s a great goaltender. He’s obviously shown he can play in the big game when they matter,” Hardowa said. “We have trust in him that he is going to make the big saves when they count. It’s important for him to know we are behind him all the way. I think he know that and we can count on him to have a big game Friday.”

UNH will also rely heavily on the talents of van Riemsdyk, whose poise with the puck and ability to spark the team’s transition game could have a significant effect on the game’s outcome.

“He can bring a lot of stuff to our offensive game. He can also play defense so he’s kind of the whole package,” Hardowa said. “He can create offense from places where people wouldn’t think offense can come from. He’s phenomenal in getting the puck out of our zone in tight spaces.”

“He’s one of our lead guys on the team and he’s playing like a senior back there. Offensively he’s brought a lot to the team he can add to the rush he’s got great composure with the puck and he’s the quarterback on our power play. You can put him all key situations. There are good players and there are great players and he’s a great player.”

With just one win in it’s previous five games against Maine and Providence, it can be argued that the UNH is crawling, if not stumbling, into the playoffs. The Wildcats don’t believe that for a second.

“The past two weekends didn’t go exactly like planned, but I don’t think we’ve been playing bad. It just think we haven’t been getting the bounces,” van Riemsdyk said. “Everyone has been working really hard and the harder you work the more bounces you seem to get.”

“Maybe we’re flying under the radar a little bit, but the fact of the matter is we’re a team that is capable of winning this,” head coach Dick Umile said. “As far as I’m concerned, I think it’s wide open. It don’t think there is any dominate team so it’s going to be whoever goes over there and plays well from the net out.”

The Wildcats say they are ready to handle the added pressure of playing for the national title.

“It’s easy to get ready for a game like this when the season is on the line,” Hardowa said. “Everybody has to be ready to go right from the first shift. You make one mistake and it could cost the season.”

“In the regular season you have the chance to make mistakes and you have another game to learn and build off of it,” senior Scott Pavelski said. “Now you don’t have that chance to go back and wish you did something better. Now you have to handle every shift like it’s your last.”

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