DURHAM, N.H. — We’ve all seen those soup commercials where LT’s mom is serving him soup right before a big game.
Well, we have a big game, and most fittingly a captain and Hockey East Player of the Year, his mom and some steak tips.
After being knocked off early from the Hockey East tournament, the UNH Wildcats were sidelined from the hockey picture, forced to sit and watch their fate reveal itself to them, game by game. But patience paid off for the Wildcats, and they were given the opportunity to travel to the East Regional in Albany, N.Y. to play against the Cornell Big Red for a spot in the Frozen Four.
But they took a little pit stop along the way — just for good measure.
On Wednesday, en route to Albany, the Wildcats took an awfully familiar route for UNH captain Bobby Butler, down to Marlboro, Massachusetts–his old stomping ground. The Wildcats took a quick practice at Butler’s childhood skating rink which was only 1.1 miles from his house, the New England Sports Center, before heading off for the coup de jour–Steak tips.
“I’m excited to head down there and practice for a bit and then head and get a nice dinner at the Butler household,” Butler said. “Nice little meal–Wendy [Butler]’s cooking.”
Now, where’s the commercial?
Regardless, after what was presumably a very satisfactory meal, UNH got back on track after missing an entire week of competitive hockey play, and are ready to take the ice once again. They will go head-to-head against a team they have played once against this season and lost to 5-2.
But, according to UNH junior Mike Sislo, the Wildcats were caught off guard during that last meeting, and they have learned a lot since then.
“They played really well, but we were coming off of break, and they had played a couple of games,” Sislo said. “But we kind of know what to expect now the second time around. We are prepared and are going to work hard. It’s an exciting time of year. There’s a new life and it’s anyone’s chance–no second chances right now.”
But the Wildcats will have to try and create some of their own second chances during the game if they want to come out on top. Perhaps the most impressive feat for Cornell is the fact that they have shutout their opponent in the past three games–in the ECAC tournament at the Times Union Center. Their goaltender Ben Scrivens has been talked about nationwide with his 1.78 GAA and a .937 save percentage — leading the nation in both categories–not to mention his seven shutouts this season.
Pair that with the fact that UNH hasn’t scored in their own past two games, and the first goal suddenly becomes that more important. And of course, when there is that much emphasis put on scoring, the UNH hockey community looks to the first line for the Wildcats–a line that has produced so much during the regular season: Paul Thompson, Phil DeSimone and Butler.
“Especially after last weekend we went two games without scoring a goal,” UNH forward Phil DeSimone said. “Obviously my line and Pete [LeBlanc]’s line, we play on the power play, so we get more opportunity to finish so yeah I guess there is more responsibility to bury especially when we don’t score a goal in two games. It’s frustrating, but I think we had a good week of practice and I think we are ready to produce this weekend.”
On the other side of the ice, UNH goaltender and All-Hockey East first team pick Brian Foster has certainly done his share of the work. After giving up only two goals in two games against Vermont, but receiving two losses for it, he certainly has kept the Wildcats in the running, and will have to do so again this weekend. Foster stopped 50 of 51 shots in his last game and his teammates will look to him once again to be the backbone for the defense and the entire team.
The opening face-off takes place tonight at 6:30, and UNH will have a chance to redeem itself while the winner will head on to play the winner between RIT and No. 1 seed Denver tomorrow night.
And for Butler, it’s been a long week off and he is anxious to be back to the competitive ice, and tonight is just what he’s been waiting for.
“We are definitely ready and excited to play,” Butler said. “It will be fun, I just want to get out on the ice to be honest with you, get that first puck drop.”