There haven't been many college hockey programs more consistent than the University of New Hampshire over the past two decades. After a rare miss in 2013-14, veteran head coach Dick Umile will look to some of his freshmen to pick up the slack and get the Wildcats back to being relevant in March.
Two of those freshmen heard their names called in the 2014 NHL Draft at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia last month. St. Andrew's College forward Warren Foegele and Shane Eiserman of the Dubuque Fighting Saints were selected by the Carolina Hurricanes and Ottawa Senators, respectively.
Foegele, taken in the third round with the 67th overall selection, saw his stock soar the past year or so after a growth spurt. His offensive skill set is very impressive as evidenced by his gaudy stats in prep school. He's got quick hands and feet and does a good job protecting the puck in all three zones.
"I'm so excited to go to UNH. It's a great school with a great hockey program. I can't wait to go there and hopefully win a championship," said Foegele.
Eiserman is the type of player that could become a UNH fan favorite. He is a powerful and physical player who loves to throw his body around and change the pace of the game.
"He can change the game single-handedly, said Dubuque head coach Matt Shaw. "He was a vital player for us. Numerous times he made a play or two with or without the puck to change the momentum of the game. His physicalness can back other teams off."
"When I'm playing my game, a north-south power forward, I can do things. I feel that my strength and speed are assets to me. When I'm playing a tough game, I feel like I can have an impact on the game," added Eiserman.
Eiserman, selected 100th overall in the fourth round by Ottawa, said he is thrilled to be part of a winning tradition and looks forward to hopefully winning a championship in Durham.
"I'm excited. I want to get to UNH and help them win a national championship," Eiserman said. "It's a great program. I can't wait to get up there."
Eiserman, who grew up in Newburyport before attending Cushing Academy and then heading to the US National Team Development Program, will have a homecoming of sorts with his college stint in nearby New Hampshire.
"It's 30 minutes away so I'll be near all my family," said Eiserman, who has spent a large portion of the past three seasons far away, including in Ann Arbor and Dubuque.
The Wildcats are also adding three other forwards. Jason Salvaggio of the Indiana Ice, Mike McNicholas of the Vernon Vipers and Andrew Poturalski of the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders round out the group of incoming forwards who will be looked on to replace some of the scoring that left after last season.
Salvaggio, a high-scoring prep school star at South Kent, was a member of the USHL Clark Cup Champions in Indiana this past winter. The Hanson, Mass. native mixes speed and skill with an ability to power to the net.
Poturalski is a '94 from Williamsville, NY who spent the past two full seasons in the USHL. His 64 points (27 goals and 37 assists) was 30 more points than the next nearest RoughRider skater.
"He's a hard working center with high end offensive skill. He delayed going to UNH a year (his choice)," explained Cedar Rapids insider Scott Herbst. "They are getting a more complete hockey player who is a high character kid."
McNicholas comes to UNH from Manhattan Beach, Calif and by way of the Vernon Vipers, a perennial powerhouse in the BCHL. On the smaller side, McNicholas is more of a set-up guy, but his speed and quickness could really flourish on the big ice surface in Durham. He had 28 goals and 59 assists for 87 points in 75 total games for the Vipers this winter.
UNH lost NHL prospects Trevor van Riemsdyk and Eric Knodel as well as Justin Agosta, each with a year of eligibility remaining. The Wildcats are bringing in four new blue liners to offset the loss of those high-end players.
Richie Boyd, John Furgele, Cameron Marks and Dylan Chanter are the four new freshmen who will be patrolling the Wildcat blue line for years to come.
Boyd, a product of Cushing Academy where he played for UNH alum Rob Gagnon, is a big shutdown defender. The Delray Beach, Fla. native was able to produce offensively at the prep level, but his true asset in Durham will be his ability to play with a mean streak.
Furgele bounced around the junior circuit, but found a nice niche with the Jersey Hitmen in the USPHL the past two seasons. A small defenseman, he was able to distribute the puck effectively and move the puck quickly on the power play for Toby Harris' team. He will come to UNH as an older freshman who will be physically and mentally mature for the grind of the Hockey East campaign.
Marks is another smallish defender who sees the ice well and can push the offense from the backend. The North Vancouver, British Columbia native played the past two seasons for the Coquitlam Express in the BCHL.
Chanter, an Armstrong, BC native, split the past season with Dubuque in the USHL and Vernon in the BCHL. He is an imposing defenseman who plays a disciplined game. He is solid on gap control and reads plays well. He quietly does a very nice job in the defensive zone similar to current Wildcat Brett Pesce.
Sherwood Park, Alberta native Adam Clark is being brought in to backup senior goaltender Casey DeSmith in the UNH crease. Clark spent the past three winters playing for the Salmon Arm Silverbacks in the BCHL where he put up consistently impressive numbers the last two seasons. At 6-5, he is a big, rangy goaltender that takes up a lot of the net.
The Wildcats open up the 2014-15 slate with a nonconference road trip to face defending national champion Union on October 11 before heading out for a two-game series at Michigan on the hallowed ice of Yost Arena. Umile's team will make its home debut on October 25 against Colorado College.
Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on twitter @JeffCoxSports.