Nov. 18, 2010

By Jen Gunnels


An exciting weekend of college hockey is ahead with eight of this weeks USA TODAY/USA Hockey top 15 teams facing off in weekend series. The nations two longest current unbeaten streaks are on the line this weekend as No. 2 Boston University squares off with Hockey East opponent No. 8 New Hampshire in a home-and-home series. At 5-1-3, the New Hampshire Wildcats have not lost a contest since a season-opening Oct. 8 contest at Miami (Ohio) and will look to extend their 8-game unbeaten streak when they host the Terriers in the series opener on Friday. The Terriers have yet to lose this season and ride the nations longest unbeaten streak at 6-0-4.

Im pleased with the start weve had,” said New Hampshire Head Coach Dick Umile. We wouldve liked to have won a few more games, weve had three ties, but theyve been very good hockey games. Specialty situations have been pretty good for us as of late and Im pleased with that.”

The Wildcats held Massachusetts scoreless in 11 power play opportunities last weekend while capitalizing on four of their own 11 power play chances. The ‘Cats currently lead the Hockey East with a 23.1 power play percentage.

The difference right now with our power play has been that the puck is moving. Were creating scoring opportunities--were not standing still. Weve done a good job in that area,” said Umile, now in his 21st season behind the bench for New Hampshire.
Last years regular season Hockey East champions returned 21 letterwinners to the ice this year and added six freshmen to the roster. Umile says it is the leadership of experienced upperclassmen that has made the difference in a tough early-season schedule that has already included three ranked opponents and six road games.

Weve got a top line in our seniors,” Umile said. Theyre mature, and that can be an advantage sometimes, like Saturday night when UMass went ahead with a minute to go. They were very composed and did whatever they had to do to get the game tied up. Weve got a nice balance with our younger players along with our seniors, so Ive been pleased.”

Senior forwards Paul Thompson and Phil DeSimone lead the team so far this season with 10 points each, followed closely by line-mate Mike Sislo with eight. The trio has netted a combined six power play goals so far this season and is aided by a staunch defense. Junior defenseman Blake Kessel was last years second-leading scorer in the nation among defensemen and has continued to contribute offensively early this season, coming up with the tying goal in Saturdays game against Massachusetts.

The Wildcats also feature one of the top goaltenders in the league. Junior goaltender Matt DiGirolamo had big skates to fill this season, taking over between the pipes after serving as the backup to All-American Brian Foster for the past two seasons. DiGirolamo was named Inside College Hockeys National Player of the Week on Nov. 9 and recorded his first career shutout last weekend against Massachusetts.

The goaltending in this league is just crazy—every weekend youre running into not only good teams, but very good goaltending,” Umile said. I think people were concerned that our goaltending wasnt going to be as strong as it had been in the past. We were all very confident in knowing Matt, his character, his competitiveness. We were very confident coming into this season that he was going to be a solid goaltender and hes lived up to it from day one. Hes been a real plus for us, no question.”

The Wildcats face a familiar opponent this weekend in Boston University, having faced the Terriers 158 times in a series that dates back to 1925. Boston University leads the all-time series 95-44-19, although New Hampshire has enjoyed recent success against the Terriers, posting a 2-0-1 record in the previous three contests.

Theyre always a challenge,” Umile said of the Terriers. Theyre always a very talented team from the net out, as we all know. Im watching the tape and theyve got balance throughout their team. Well have to pay attention to specialty situations. Itll be a very up-and-down game, I suspect, with a lot of speed.”

Looking Ahead to Other Weekend Action
Another notable Hockey East series to watch this weekend will be No. 3 Maine at No. 9 Boston College, a rematch of the 2010 Hockey East Championship game, which Boston College won 7-6 in overtime. The Black Bears are coming off of consecutive weekend sweeps over North Dakota and Northeastern and sitting at second place in Hockey East standings. The Eagles split their series last weekend with Vermont and currently sit at 6-4 on the year.

In WCHA action, No. 1 Minnesota-Duluth is headed to Madison for a weekend series at No. 15 Wisconsin. At 9-1-2 the Bulldogs are off to their best start in school history. Junior forward Mike Connolly looks to extend a 10-game point streak after tallying his 100th career point on Saturday in a 4-2 win over Michigan Tech. The Wisconsin Badgers will be looking to bounce back after being swept at home last weekend by North Dakota. The No. 7 North Dakota Fighting Sioux square off with No. 4 Nebraska-Omaha in another WCHA weekend clash. Separated by just one point in league standings, the series will be the first ever meeting between the two teams. Nebraska-Omaha will attempt to remain the only unbeaten team in WCHA league play, continuing what has been the best start in program history. North Dakota senior defensemen Chay Genoway enters the weekend with 99 career points and could become just the ninth Sioux defenseman to ever reach the 100-point mark. Elsewhere in the WCHA, the Beavers of Bemidji State head to No. 14 Denver looking for their first ever win over the Pioneers, who have won each of the five times the teams have met.

Atlantic Hockey leader Robert Morris will host Mercyhurst on Friday before hitting the road Saturday to face Canisius. Mercyhurst is on a three-game winning streak thanks in part to impressive goaltending by senior Ryan Zapolski, who has allowed just three goals in his past three games. Robert Morris senior forward Nathan Longpre became the schools all-time assist leader on Saturday, setting the new career mark with 73 helpers.

No. 11 Notre Dame hosts Michigan State in a CCHA weekend battle starting Friday night. The Fighting Irish will look to defend their current top spot in league standings against a Spartan team that will be on the hunt for its first win at Notre Dame since February 3, 2006. No. 6 Miami travels to face Bowling Green while Lake Superior State hosts No. 10 Michigan for a pair of weekend contests.
And finally, in ECAC Hockey action, No. 5 Yale hits the road to face Cornell and Colgate in a pair of league contests this weekend after suffering its first loss of the season at Air Force on Sunday. Yales Broc Little, Andrew Miller and Brian ONeill have each notched at least one point in each of the teams six games so far. Conference leader Princeton opens its home schedule this weekend against Harvard and Dartmouth.