The past few weeks have been very good for the Eagles. York has been able to take the wheel and start steering this young Eagle’s squad into the right direction. While there are still some kinks that need to be ironed out, neverthless the Eagles presently sit at the top of the totem poll in the Hockey East with their only conference loss coming against Providence back in late October. This weekend, the Eagles will have their work cut out for them. They have two tough conference battles beginning with a feisty UNH squad Friday night at the Whittemore Center in Durham before coming back to Boston for a cross-town showdown against Beanpot rival Northeastern. With the UNH game on the horizon, I reached out to Mike Lowry at The UNH Men’s Hockey Blog to discuss the first of two crucial games for the Eagles.
1) At this point in the season, UNH has come off to a pretty decent start to the season posing a 6-3-1 record and sitting at 3rd in the Hockey East standings. What do you think have been some of the main attributes to the team's early success thus far?
Team defense and balanced scoring. Last season, UNH had difficulties getting the puck out of it's zone. As a result, the Wildcats were 10th in Hockey East in Goals Against Per Game (3.40). The addition of 18-year-old defensemen Max Gildon (Florida draft pick; 6G 4A +3) and Benton Maass (Washington draft pick; 1G 9A +2) has helped. All defensemen and forwards are committed to playing team defense in their own zone - back-checking, blocking shots, forcing turnovers, getting to loose pucks. So far, UNH has the best goals against per game in Hockey East (2.20). Last year, 48% of UNH's goal scoring came from the first line of All-American Tyler Kelleher (24G), Jason Salvaggio (23G) and Michael McNicholas (13G). This season, the top three forward lines are threats to score and defenseman Max Gildon (6G) leads the team in goal-scoring. Seven players have scored 2 or more goals.
2) Last weekend, UNH is coming off of a brutal shutout against a strong BU team. What went wrong for UNH and what can they look to improve on with BC coming to Durham on Friday?
Although the shots on goal were relatively even - UNH 29, BU 31 - the Terriers generated more quality scoring opportunities. As I mentioned earlier, part of UNH's success this season is due to balanced scoring from the top three forward lines. Four of UNH's top scorers, in terms of Points Per Game, missed the BU game due to injuries - First line right winger Charlie Kelleher (0.88 PPG), second line left winger Shane Eiserman (0.80 PPG) and center Marcus Vela (0.43 PPG), and third line left winger Brendan van Riemsdyk (0.78 PPG). These four players also play key roles on special teams. Obviously, their absence wasn't the only reason for the loss to BU but it was a factor. At the weekly press conference yesterday, Coach Umile announced that Kelleher and Vela will likely play against BC on Friday and van Riemsdyk may play.
3) Daniel Tirone has proven to be one of UNH's strongest assets. The senior currently is ranked tenth in USCHO in save percentage and tied for second in shutout performances. Is he going to be the main catalyst on Friday for UNH to pull off the upset, or is there another UNH player BC should keep their eyes on?
I think Tirone's improved stats this season are partly due to the team playing better defense in front of him. This has allowed him to stay in the crease more often and see the puck better. Throughout his NCAA career, Tirone's athleticism has lead to his fair share of game-saving saves. That could be a catalyst against BC. The return of Charlie Kelleher and Marcus Vela may also spark UNH. Both are skilled, two-way players. Finally, I think BC fans will recognize how skilled freshman defensemen Max Gildon and Benton Maass are.
4) What are some weak points that BC should look to expose in order to come out of Durham with a win?
I refuse to reveal any team secrets! But seriously, if BC can use it's speed and puck control to counteract UNH's improved team defense, an Eagles win could be in the offing.
5) This UNH team is stocked with a lot of juniors and seniors who have become familiarized with BC's style of play. Do you think that this type of seniority and experience will factor heavily into the outcome of this Hockey East showdown?
Historically, UNH's best seasons have come when they have a strong, experienced group of seniors. Forwards McNicholas, Salvaggio, and Eiserman (when healthy), defensemen Marks, Chanter, and Boyd, and goalies Tirone and Clark comprise a strong senior class. I count 6 freshmen, 11 sophomores, and only 1 senior on the BC squad. The differences in age and years of NCAA experience of the two teams could be an advantage for UNH.
6) Lastly, what do you predict the outcome of the game will be?
A classic UNH-BC matchup on the olympic-sized ice at the Whittemore Center features speed, rapid movement of the puck up and down the ice, and plenty of scoring bids. I predict 30+ shots on goal for both teams but the solid play of goalies Tirone and Woll will keep the score from escalating too high. How about a 4-4 tie?
Thanks again to Mike for taking the time to sit down with BCI!