BOSTON – The Northeastern University Huskies take on the New Hampshire Wildcats this weekend, meeting tonight at the Whittemore Center in Durham and Saturday night at Fenway Park. The Huskies will have their hands full – UNH has gotten off to a surprisingly strong start, posting a 10-8-2 record overall and a 5-2-1 record in conference play. That’s good enough for a tie for 5th in Hockey East at the moment at 11 points. UNH has a tough road ahead though. It’s first half success was built on going 5-0-1 against Massachusetts, Merrimack, and Maine. They still have games against Providence, BC, Vermont, BU, Notre Dame, and Lowell ahead of them, in addition to playing Northeastern.
None of this should take away from the incredible season the UNH offense is having. The Wildcats are 7th in the nation in goals for (3.60 goals/game) and 7th in power play conversion (23.68%). As expected, Tyler Kelleher is leading the way with a line of 14-26-40. That places him first in the nation in points, points per game, and assists as of this writing. Kelleher is a bonafide Hobey contender. On top of this, senior defenseman Matias Cleland is second in the nation (right behind Kelleher) in assists with 23, and 24 points overall.
What really drives the New Hampshire offense this year is the secondary contributions. The freshman forward class has been excellent. Patrick Grasso has chipped in 12 goals and 10 assists, and classmates Liam Blackburn and Brendan van Riemsdyk have contributed 11 points a piece. Key forwards in the junior class have made important strides as well; Michael McNicholas has 9 goals and 13 assists, while Jason Salvaggio has 13 goals and 8 assists.
The Wildcat defense hasn’t been impressive (3.00 goals per game, 35th in the country; penalty kill at 81.9%, 35th in the country). However, UNH does boast excellent discipline and good goaltending. Dick Umile’s squad is the best team nationally at staying out of the box right now (just 9.70 penalty minutes per game). Junior netminder Daniel Tirone has been solid as well, posting a .913 SV%.
It’s hard telling exactly what this New Hampshire team is quite yet. Unlike NU, the hardest part of the club’s schedule starts now. Additionally, the peripherals are not encouraging. The team’s CF% in even strength situations is merely 47.3. UNH looks like a solid bet for regression in the second half.
But two things are for sure – this team can score and it can beat sub-par teams. Northeastern will have to be very, very careful this weekend.
@UNH: UNH 6 NU 3
@Fenway: Tie, 4-4
@UNH: Tie 3-3
@Fenway: NU 5 UNH 4
@UNH UNH 3 NU 2
@Fenway NU wins 4-2