DURHAM, N.H.– The Wildcats can breathe a sigh of relief after taking a split last weekend with Miami-Ohio, and matching their overall non-conference wins from last season–one. After taking a brutal 6-3 loss on Friday night, UNH jumped back to dominate the second period of Saturday night’s matchup and eventually take its own 6-3 victory.
And winning never felt so sweet this early in the season.
“Finally it was a good start to the season in a while,” senior forward Phil DeSimone said. “We [the seniors] have been through it so many times, we finally took it into our own hands. Before the season, in September, when it’s not really official yet, I think maybe we took it a little more–not seriously, but added more intensity which allowed us to be more prepared for the games in Miami this weekend.”
But, that win doesn’t guarantee anything and the Wildcats are now faced with another uphill battle on Saturday, in the form of the University of Michigan. The Wolverines enter this weekend undefeated in CCHA play (2-0-0) and 2-0-1 overall. They are also ranked fourth in the nation.
These two teams haven’t met since 2004, and the Wolverines haven’t made the trip to Durham since 1984. Besides knowing that they are constantly at the top of the country in rankings every year, there are no players that have any experience playing against each other. That being said, head coach Dick Umile said the objective this week in practice was to improve his own team.
“Michigan is going to be a really good team,” Umile said. “They are going to have as good of forwards as anyone in the country. They are a program that is there every single year–one of the top teams in the country. We think we match up with them and I think last weekend after our Saturday game, we proved we could play against those teams.”
Going into the season, there were some doubts about some of the aspects of the team. For one, there was a question of how junior goaltender Matt DiGirolamo would hold up in net. And as it turned out, DiGirolamo ended the weekend ranked fourth among all goaltenders, and first in Hockey East for most saves with 71.
“A comment was made, that if they didn’t know who Matt DiGirolamo was before this weekend, they do now,” Umile said. “And I think that was the important piece. He proved he’s a goaltender that can compete at this level and be a good one.”
UNH will have to not only have great defense once again with the threat of Michigan’s Louie Caporusso on the horizon, but its own offense will have to provide some early support. UNH had six different goal scorers in its last game, adding some additional depth threat to the already intimidating first line of the Wildcats. One such line was that of sophomores John Henrion, Austin Block and Dalton Speelman, who accounted for two goals and three assists this weekend against Miami.
“I think the most important thing that happened this weekend was the line of Henrion, Block and Speelman that really stepped up and produced,” DeSimone said. “And I think even though they knew they could do it, I think it was really good for them as well because it showed them–they didn’t really get the opportunity last year and now they succeeded against one of the best teams in the country so I think it gives them the extra confidence going in against a team like Michigan.”
As history would dictate, the last time the Wolverines visited the Wildcats, UNH took home the victory 5-4. Combine that with it being the first home game of the season with a hungry team, and two teams within the top ten in the nation, and you have the recipe for an exciting battle.
“We are just going to try and improve from last weekend, improve our mistakes we made,” DeSimone said. “And hopefully, we are back in our rink now so our first game at home is always–it gets us a little more excited, so it should be a good game this weekend.”
These two teams will faceoff at the Whittemore Center at 7 p.m. on Satuday.