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Early Bird Special: Tirone Making Impact at UNH

Danny Tirone, in action with the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders in the USHL
Danny Tirone, in action with the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders in the USHL
Serena Dalhamer

Danny Tirone wasn't even expected to arrive at the University of New Hampshire until next Fall, but an unforeseen circumstance changed the plan.

When Tirone learned that the UNH staff would like to bring him in midseason, it put in motion a whirlwind first half that saw him leave the USHL's Cedar Rapids RoughRiders and return back to New England to play for the Boston Junior Bruins.

"They asked me to come in this semester towards the end of September, just a few days before going over to the Junior Bruins," explained Tirone. "Then I got accepted into the school."

Tirone said both junior teams were very understanding of the circumstances. Cedar Rapids was put in a quandary of finding a replacement right before the regular season started and the Junior Bruins were left knowing they'd have a superb goaltender, but only for the first half of the year.

"I worked all summer to be with Cedar Rapids. I would have been one of the oldest guys on the team and was slated to have a leadership role there. It was tough on me to leave, but they understood the reason," said the Trumbull, Conn. native. "Going to the Junior Bruins, they accepted me knowing that I'd have to leave halfway through. I'm pretty grateful for that."

With all that went into the first few months of the hockey season and the difficult life transition that is heading off to college, it would have been no surprise if Tirone took a while to adjust and settle in. But with the help of his teammates and coaching staff, he appears to be adjusting just fine to college hockey.

"It's very difficult, not only to play, but the adjustment [to college]. The team has handled it as well as he has. He's fit in very well," said UNH coach Dick Umile, who said he's never had a player join his team midseason in over two decades at the helm.

It certainly helped having some familiarity with a few players including freshman Andrew Poturalski, a teammate in Cedar Rapids.

"I'm just getting more comfortable each day. The team's helping me a lot to learn the ropes quickly. My teammates are the reason I'm starting to feel comfortable. It's a credit to them," said Tirone.

Tirone certainly hasn't looked fazed by the unique circumstances in which his college career is starting. He's off to a 2-0 start in two starts with a 1.50 goals against average and a .947 save percentage.

"He's good. He competes. He looks very comfortable in there," said Umile.

Despite his strong start Tirone will still have to fight for playing time with fellow freshman Adam Clark, who started every game during the first half. Tirone brings an interesting difference in style to Clark, who stands six inches taller than him.

What Tirone lacks in size and ability to take up coverage in the net, he makes up for with his quickness and athleticism. He is an extremely quick goaltender with cat-like reflexes. In Tuesday's 2-1 win over Providence, he made five or six really nice pad saves.

"I try to use my speed out there and take away the low part of the ice," said Tirone, a former prep star at Loomis Chaffee in his home state of Connecticut.

Tirone knows that he and Clark will have the opportunity to push each other to be even better. He knows that playing time won't be a given, but he's ready to embrace the challenge and be ready when given the opportunity to start.

"I just try to go out every day in practice and compete as best as I can. I'm always optimistic I can get a chance to play. For me it's just about being ready to play no matter what. I approach everyday as if I was going to play. If I get the call I have to make sure I'm ready to go out and compete," Tirone explained.

Tirone could help jumpstart a successful second half after a disappointing and uncharacteristic poor first half by a UNH program used to winning and winning a lot. The winning history is certainly something that drew Tirone up to Durham.

"The success and tradition here," he said when asked why he chose UNH. "That was important to me. Coach Umile has been here for 25 years. That's always been something I've wanted. The track record speaks for itself. I wanted to be a part of it."

Tirone admitted that the last few months of 2014 were difficult, but the opportunity to play right away for the Wildcats is something that made it all worthwhile.

"A lot of things had to fall in place, but I'm happy to be here and finally get going."

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Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on Twitter @JeffCoxSports.