Durham, NH — The University of New Hampshire hockey team scored three power play goals en route to a 3-1 exhibition victory over New Brunswick in front of 1,866 fans Sunday afternoon at the Whittemore Center.
Picked to finish 10th in Hockey East by the league coaches, a win in a game that doesn’t count will do little to quell the doubters, but there were certainly positives to be taken from the contest.
“Overall I was pleased,” said UNH head coach Dick Umile. “We wanted to play at a fast pace and I thought we did that. The younger guys did a good job for us and the goaltenders were solid.”
“It was a fun game. It was good to get back into the game. Sometimes you feel rusty. No matter how much you practice, games are always different,” added UNH captain Tyler Kelleher.
After a scoreless first period, Ara Nazarian and Liam Blackburn scored power play markers to put the Wildcats up, 2-0, after 40 minutes. Shane Eiserman added a goal on the man advantage in the third period before UNB’s Randy Gazzola scored a power play goal of his own to close out the scoring.
Redshirt sophomore Adam Clark and junior Danny Tirone split the goaltending duties fairly evenly. Clark, who took a medical redshirt last season, stopped all 13 shots he faced. Tirone made 11 saves on 12 shots on goal.
“They’re both really good goalies. Hopefully they can keep it up. I’m pretty sure they will,” said Kelleher.
First Line Sparks Offense
Despite losing linemate Andrew Poturalski to a pro contract, Kelleher didn’t appear to miss a beat Sunday. The senior was flying all over the ice, using his speed and agility to create offense for himself and his two new linemates.
Kelleher was the right wing with Nazarian, a sophomore, in the middle and junior Jason Salvaggio on the left wing. Nazarian and Kelleher’s speed were a lethal combination Sunday. In total, the line accounted for 14 of the team’s 34 shots on goal.
“[Nazarian] is a real good player. He’s smart. We like to make plays,” said Kelleher of one of his new linemates.
Kelleher assisted on Nazarian’s power play goal in the second period. In addition to gelling in the offensive zone, the duo were generating chances shorthanded and doing a good job killing penalties, despite being on the ice for the lone UNB goal.
“They did a good job on the PK. They feed off each other well,” Umile remarked.
Salvaggio, who Umile praised during the preseason for having come back in terrific shape, had eight shots on goal.
“He came back in great shape. He’s playing well for us right now. He’s shooting the puck. We want him to shoot. He has a great shot,” said Umile.
Strong Below the Dots
UNH’s other two power play goals came from second and third liners after solid play down low, specifically below the goal line.
Blackburn’s goal, at the 14:39 mark of the second period, came after Brendan van Riemsdyk carried the puck into the zone down the right wing boards. He circled below the goal line before sending out a pass right to Blackburn in the mid slot for a quick strike.
In the third period, van Riemsdyk moved the puck from below the goal line on the right side to Blackburn at the the opposite side down low. He quickly zipped a pass to Eiserman who had planted himself right on top of the goal mouth.
“[Eiserman] is a big, strong guy. That’s what he does. It’s what you want him to do. We can stick him down front. They can’t move him. He has a very good shot,” Umile explained.
In a physical affair, the only visible injury was to Marcus Vela, the right wing on the line with Eiserman and center Chris Miller. The San Jose Sharks pick left the game in the second period after suffering a concussion on a dirty hit that resulted in an ejection to UNB forward Mike Thomas.
Eight freshmen dressed for Umile’s Wildcats with several logging significant minutes. No rookie had more ice time in key spots than defenseman Anthony Wyse, a big, physical defender who also skates well.
The Newton, Mass. native played on the power play, penalty kill and even strength with Matt Dawson. He was on the second power play unit to start the game with fellow defenseman Cam Marks. He shifted up to the first unit once Matias Cleland was ejected for cross-checking.
He skates very well for a big guy. He likes to step into the rush, but his play in his own zone will be what Umile and the coaching staff are counting on the most this season.
The all-freshman line of Blackburn centering van Riemsdyk and Patrick Grasso was very good and generated several scoring chances.
“We had a freshman line out there that played well, but I thought the whole group played well. It’s good for them. [UNB] is an older team. They’ve been around for a long time. I thought they handled it well,” said Umile.
“I thought [the freshmen] were really good. They looked fast and skilled. I expected them to look like that,” said Kelleher.
New Hampshire opens its regular season Saturday night with a tilt against Atlantic Hockey foe Bentley.