Wildcats back to conference challenges

DURHAM, N.H.– If non-conference wins are considered the dessert or the “icing on the cake,” then the Wildcats are heading straight for the meat and potatoes with two Hockey East matchups this weekend. After clinching a 7-4 victory in Cornell last weekend, UNH will finally take the ice again in their own conference, and dive in against Boston College and UMass-Lowell this weekend.

Currently the Wildcats sit in a misleading 9th place in the Hockey East standings, playing the fewest conference games among all the teams to this point–a 2-2 tie against Northeastern back on October 22. That puts them at a 0-0-1 record, while other teams, including Lowell sit on top of six conference games.

“It’s definitely not a bad thing that we have only played one Hockey East game,” senior forward Phil DeSimone said. “It just shows us–we are starting to play in our league now and it just shows us where we are going to have to be to be competitive this year in our league.”

Though it might look daunting to see the eight point spread that separates first and last place, UNH knows that if they continue to play the way they have in their non-conference games, they can catch right back up in the standings once league play gets under way. As for the numbers in their record? They aren’t concerned.

“Right now we are undefeated in Hockey East,” UNH coach Dick Umile said. “We do that the rest of the season, I’ll be happy. You see the board in our locker room, you see no ones, twos, threes that say losses in that column so that’s nice.”

One aspect on the ice that has been extremely effective in keeping the loss category to a minimum is UNH’s ability to put the puck in the net in every way. The Wildcats have the depth and are seeing production from every line this year, including on specialty teams and from the defense. Their power play has been especially striking, scoring a goal in each of its first five games this season, while the shorthand has been just as efficient, with the most recent of its kind coming against Cornell, courtesy of Stevie Moses.

But it won’t be the offense that’s tested nearly as much as the defense this weekend, with the talent that fills the lines for both BC and Lowell. The defending national champion Eagles also have had a tough schedule so far this year, and still rank among the top in the country overall, as well as tied for first in Hockey East. Boasting two veteran goaltenders, John Muse and Parker Milner, as well as offensive superstars like Cam Atkinson, Joe Whitney, Brian Gibbons, and the list goes on, the UNH defense, as well as goaltender Matt DiGirolamo will have to be ready for an onslaught.

However, it’s nothing UNH hasn’t seen before. In fact, it’s been a little less than eight months since these two teams faced off against each other, and the Wildcats know they are up against not only a top team, but the defending national champions.

“I think no matter what BC– they have won it twice since I’ve been here so we want to prove ourselves as the team we kind of want to be and to beat the best and be the best.,“ DeSimone said. “And I think BC has proven in the past few years in college hockey they have kind of dominated.”

UNH will take the ice at Conte Forum on Friday night at 7 p.m. against the Eagles and Saturday night at Tsongas Center to take on UMass-Lowell.

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