New Hampshire (14-4-2) has a light weekend, with only a game on Saturday, when the third-ranked Wildcats host Providence.
So far, it has been a successful season for the squad, which is second in Hockey East, 2 points behind Boston College (10-3-1) with a 9-3-1 league record.
Junior forward Kevin Goumas, who had 18 points as a freshman and 34 as a sophomore, is on pace for a career-best season with 28 points in 20 games, tops on the team.
Goumas, who hails from Long Beach, N.Y., said he’s enjoying himself.
“Any time you’re winning games and getting along with your teammates, you’re having a lot of fun,’’ he said. “This is the most fun I’ve had in a while playing hockey.’’
Goumas believes something special is happening with the Wildcats.
“I think we’ve shown a lot of character,’’ he said. “There is not a lot of individual things. We bonded as a team this year.
“I think that’s the biggest thing I have noticed in my three years. Everyone came together. It’s not like we’re separating the freshmen and the seniors. We have good leadership as well. This is the best leadership I’ve had in a long time, not just the captains but the seniors.
“I think everyone is making the commitment. I think that’s why we’re doing so well.’’
Although the program hasn’t had a great deal of postseason success, Goumas expects these Wildcats to parlay the regular-season achievements into a strong postseason run.
“I think we can actually pull together in the postseason,’’ he said. “We want to keep playing the hockey we’ve been playing. I think the key to our success is how we’ve been playing defensively.’’
That starts with sophomore goaltender Casey DeSmith, who has a .928 save percentage, a 2.05 goals-against average, and a record of 13-4-2 with four shutouts.
“He’s been really important,’’ said Goumas. “He’s been one of the best goalies in the league, if not the nation. He’s been tremendous. The athleticism he has is unbelievable. He can slide across the crease and make a nice save and he has great rebound control. It starts with him and builds on us.’’
Goumas said the team tries to help out DeSmith by blocking shots and limiting the number of chances he has to handle.
“The team has really committed defensively,’’ he said. “Casey has been doing great but it’s also the forwards and the defensemen, not giving the [opposition] the space to make plays.’’
Last weekend, UNH went head to head with BC and the teams split. Goumas said it was a good gauge for where they are.
“They’re a very good hockey team, as you can tell,’’ said Goumas, who had a goal and an assist against the Eagles. “They can definitely score goals and they also can play defense. We showed we can compete with them and anybody in our league and nationally.
“It’s going to be a close fight to the end with BC, and even BU is in the running.’’
BC has won the national title three of the last five seasons, and BU won it in 2009. Goumas said the Wildcats want a taste of that.
“When you get to the postseason, it’s one game and done, you’ve got to leave it all out there,’’ he said. “I’ve experienced and UNH has experienced it [in other years]. You can be unbelievable during the regular season but come playoff time, all the players are going to give it all they got.
“It’s definitely frustrating when you see a team like BC or BU win the national championship and you’re sitting there watching, saying, ‘Man, we beat these guys.’
“Come playoff time, we’ve got to bear down and get the win.’’
The season series will be on the line Feb. 17 when UNH travels to Conte Forum for a matinee against the Eagles.
Holy Cross (11-7-2) is having its best season since 2005-06 but the Crusaders hit a small bump in the road, losing three of their last four. They face a very stern test this weekend when Atlantic Hockey leader Niagara (13-3-4) comes to town for a two-game set beginning Friday. Niagara is unbeaten in league play (12-0-1) and has won three games in a row . . . BC coach Jerry York remains on the sidelines after having a second medical procedure Monday to correct a detached retina. He is recovering at home and won’t coach the team this weekend when the Eagles take on UMass at home and travel to Northeastern. Associate head coaches Mike Cavanaugh and Greg Brown will handle the bench for the second weekend in a row . . . Quinnipiac (17-3-3) climbed up another rung in the USCHO.com Division 1 men’s poll, rising to No. 4. The Bobcats are 10 points ahead of Princeton and are unbeaten in ECAC play (11-0-1). They are in the midst of a nine-day break and next play Tuesday when they host Connecticut. After that, they will have another nine-day break before embarking on a four-game road swing beginning Feb. 1 at Brown, Yale, Cornell, and Colgate. The Bobcats are 7-0-1 away from home.
Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.