When the Hockey East preseason coaches poll was released, nine of the 10 coaches selected Boston College to finish first.
The lone coach who didn’t was BC’s Jerry York (coaches aren’t allowed to vote for their team), who chose New Hampshire.
Judging by the first three games of this season, it appears York was on to something. The Wildcats are 3-0-0, scoring 13 goals and allowing just six.
This weekend, UNH will play a home-and-home series against Northeastern (2-1-0) and UNH coach Dick Umile hopes his team can build on its early success.
“Last season we got off to a slow start and got in a hole there and didn’t quite get out of it, so it was important for us to get off to a good start and so far, things have gone OK,’’ said Umile. “We’ve played some pretty good hockey but there is a long way to go. It’s good for confidence and we try to get better each weekend.’’
Last season, UNH was 0-4-1 in its first five outings. Its first win didn’t come until Game 6. The year was a roller-coaster ride of streaks. The Wildcats made it to the Hockey East quarterfinals but fell to Boston University in three games, two of which were decided in double overtime.
Umile said the early exit made this year’s squad all the more hungry.
“There’s no doubt about it,’’ he said. “We’ve competed in the NCAA Tournament, we had to fight our way there at the end in a very, very tough league and we finished sixth. We didn’t make the NCAA Tournament and we didn’t get to Boston Garden [for the Hockey East semifinals] and that doesn’t happen too often. We were a determined group, an angry group, and we knew we had to get off to a good start. We’ve got a long way to go but it’s a good group and they’re fun to coach.’’
One player who has been noticeable early is senior defenseman Connor Hardowa, the team captain. He has five assists in three games and is a team-best plus-7.
“He’s a big, strong kid who can add offense to our team as well,’’ said Umile. “He leads the way and he does it by example. We have five of six defensemen back from last year and that has helped us.’’
In addition, sophomore goaltender Casey DeSmith picked up where he left off last year. He has a .920 save percentage and 2.00 goals-against average.
“We learned he’s a player who is going to compete with some of of the best,’’ said Umile. “He proved that the second half. He gave us an opportunity to win every night. We felt good about him and Jeff Wyer. Jeff played a couple of games last year but he tore cartilage [knocking him out of the lineup], but he’s back and competing as well. We thought Casey was going to be a very talented goaltender. He’s a local kid right out of Rochester and always wanted to go to UNH and we were fortunate he made that commitment.’’
Up front, junior forward Dalton Speelman has impressed with two goals and three assists. He has come a long way since suffering a serious injury last year.
“We lost him most of the season last year when he broke his hand,’’ said Umile. “He kind of shattered his hand and he got a medical redshirt so he got a year back. He’s a talented forward who can make plays, score goals, he does everything for us.’’
Umile said Speelman’s hand, which was surgically repaired and required extensive rehabilitation, has full mobility and is no issue.
“The doctors did a great job,’’ said Umile. “Right now he’s playing with a lot of confidence.’’
A key defenseman is Trevor van Riemsdyk, younger brother of former UNH star James van Riemsdyk, who has been an impact player for the Philadelphia Flyers.
“It’s a pretty good bloodline,’’ said Umile. “[Trevor] has really developed. He’s a sophomore who plays like a senior. He can play defensively, he has great awareness. He can take the puck and rush [up the ice]. We think he’s going to be one of the top defensemen. He’s a great kid to coach, very humble. He’s a real good team player.’’
When you’re playing in Hockey East, every weekend is a stern test, and NU will be no exception.
“Jimmy [Madigan] has his team playing well,’’ said Umile. “They got off to a good start and this will be a good matchup. They’re quick and coming out and beating Boston College early on, they made a statement. It’s Hockey East, they are all tough games.’’
Back on top
BC moved back into the No. 1 spot in the USCHO.com Division 1 men’s poll, up two places from last week. The Eagles will take on UMass-Lowell in a home-and-home series on Friday and Sunday. Sophomore forward Johnny Gaudreau walked away with league player of the week honors after scoring a goal and an assist in each of BC’s wins last weekend over UMass and Northeastern . . . Vermont (0-0-1) heads to Lawler Arena for a two-game set against Merrimack (1-3-0). The Warriors hope to rebound after a tough weekend in Alaska where they dropped games to Alaska-Fairbanks and Alaska-Anchorage. Merrimack won all three meetings against the Catamounts last year and is 7-0-2 in the last nine meetings … Maine (1-4-0) will travel south to take on Providence (1-2-1) in two games at Schneider Arena. Three of the last six meetings between the league rivals have gone to overtime. For the Friars, freshman goaltender Jon Gillies is off to a terrific start and was named the league’s rookie of the week with a 2.34 goals-against average and .914 save percentage against Miami (Ohio) in two games last weekend, both of which went to overtime. The Friars tied the first game, 1-1, and lost the second, 4-3.
Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at email@example.com