DURHAM, N.H.– The exhibition is done, practices are over, and for the New Hampshire Wildcats, the season starts now. The Wildcats shipped out to Miami (Ohio) today to play a weekend series with the No. 3 ranked Redhawks.
The last time these two teams met was opening weekend last year, where Miami unleashed havoc on the Whittemore Center, taking a 6-3 win followed by a 5-5 tie the following night.
The No. 8 ranked Wildcats remember it all too well, because that also marked the beginning of what would be an incredibly rough non-conference schedule. UNH finished the season last year with a 3-8-1 record when facing out of conference opponents.
“We’ve been focusing on this game and everybody has been looking forward to a big out-of-conference game against Miami for a while now,” UNH senior Paul Thompson said. “Looking back to last year, it’s been something we have been looking forward to as a senior class, to set the tone early and it’s going to be a good competition to see where we are at.”
While some teams prefer to ease into the season, UNH will be thrown right into it, playing four of its first five games against teams in the top 10 of the nation (Miami No. 3, Michigan No. 4 and Cornell No. 10).
“It’s definitely going to be a tough test,” Thompson said. “But I think we look at it if we come out of it with above .500 record with a couple of wins, hopefully even better than that, we are going to be considered one of those teams. But our focus right now is on Miami and they are obviously one of the best teams in the country going into the year and we are just looking to take them on.”
But looking at Miami can be a daunting task. They are returning all seven of their defensemen as well as both their goalies, including 2010 CCHA Player of the Year, goaltender Cody Reichard and Best Defensive Defenseman Will Weber.
“They’ve got it all,” UNH head coach Dick Umile said. “Their defensive core is strong. I’m sure they are going to be using both goaltenders that they’ve been rotating the past couple of years. Their top three centers are seniors with a lot of experience, very talented. Yeah, they are a very balanced team, very good team.”
With such a defensive strength returning for the Redhawks, the Wildcats have to anticipate low scoring and keeping the pressure on. UNH has a number of people returning to the lineup as well, with four lines that are also capable of scoring. Thompson has already started the year off to a fast start, netting into two of the three UNH goals this year.
The first line for the Wildcats will look familiar, boasting the mixture of two lines Umile has put together in the past–Thompson, Phil DeSimone and Mike Sislo. In the not-so-distant past, fans will remember the electric TBD line of last year that included Bobby Butler. Another year before that, the line to beat was the DeSimone, Sislo and James van Riemsdyk line. Combine those two together and you have what should be another dominating top line.
However, it isn’t a top forward that is leading the Wildcats in scoring against the Redhawks, and is instead defenseman Blake Kessel who enters the weekend with two goals and three assists against Miami..
“I think a lot of my points came off the top line last year, but I think the top line this year is going to be one of the key contributors,” Kessel said. “They are all seniors, and I think Sislo can fill in for Butler just like they did last year with the top line. The forwards that we have this year create a lot of open space for their defensemen. And I think just getting up in the plays in smart situations, like I did last year will help.”
UNH will faceoff against the Redhawks Friday at 7:30 p.m. and continue Saturday at 7 p.m. Friday night’s game will be broadcast on CBS College Sports.