DURHAM, NH — The University of New Hampshire men’s hockey team has completed its final eight games of the regular season after a weekend break with a goal of picking up some momentum and positioning itself as best it can for the Hockey East Playoffs.
The Wildcats begin the stretch run this weekend with two games against ranked opponents: they play No. 15 Merrimack College in a game presented by UNH Army ROTC on Friday night at 7 p.m. at home at the Whittemore Center and meet No. 16 on Saturday UMass Lowell at the Tsongas Center in Lowell at 6 p.m
Tickets for UNH hockey can be purchased at UNHWildcats.com/Tickets or by calling the ticket office at (603) 862-4000. Both games are available on ESPN+ and on radio via www.unhwildcats.com.
“We want to climb as high as we can in the standings and end the season strong,” said UNH senior captain and forward Chase Stevenson. “At this point, that’s all that matters, especially how the one-game-elimination playoffs work. Hopefully, whoever’s playing best at that point will get a good result. That’s our goal.”
UNH is 7-18-1 overall and 2-13-1 in Hockey East and has played its best hockey of the season since the calendar switched to 2023.
The Wildcats are looking for a little revenge in both games this weekend.
They lost 6-1 at Merrimack on Oct. 18 as the Warriors began to establish themselves as one of the surprise teams in Hockey East and across the country.
Merrimack, coached by former longtime UNH assistant Scott Borek, was 14-5-0 at the end of December but has slipped a bit in the new year. The Warriors went 2-5-1 in January, coming off a weekend split in Vermont. Merrimack won 4-2 on Friday night and lost Saturday’s rematch 2-1 in overtime.
“They are playing a tough game,” said the UNH coach Mike Suza. “They are a strong group and a confident group who have won a lot of games this year.”
Junior forward Alex Jefferies has 10 goals and 21 assists for 31 points to lead offense, and junior Zachary Borgiel and sophomore Hugo Ollas had a nice contest in goal. Borgiel has 2.12 goals against average and .914 save percentage and Ollas is at 2.60 and .902. Ollas made 30 saves in October’s win against UNH.
The Warriors are 16-10-1 overall and hold third in the league at 11-4-2.
The Wildcats have had a three-game winning streak in their most recent games, snapped by UMass Lowell. They played the River Hawks at the Whitt on January 20 and the game went 2-2 into the third half and the visitors pulled away with a 6-2 win.
The next night at Lowell, UNH led 2-1 into the third and the River Hawks leveled the game and then scored the game-winner with less than a minute left in OT for a 3-2 win.
Just prior to these UMass Lowell games, UNH lost two forwards, Junior Nick Cafarelli and newbie Morgan Wintersto injuries at the end of the season.
In recent practices, Souza and his staff shuffled some lineups to see who they could use to replace Cafarelli in the team’s highest-scoring rookie line Cy LeClerc Centering for the second year Liam Devlin left and Cafarelli on the right. student in the first year Jake Dunlap of Windham, NH, skated with the unit much of the time this week.
LeClerc and Devlin lead the team in scoring. LeClerc has 12 goals and six assists for 18 points and Devlin is at 9-9-18. Each has five power play goals, which is third best in the league with five other players.
LeClerc’s 12 goals is third-best in the league and second-best among freshmen after Boston College’s Cutter Gauthier, who has 13 goals and nine assists for 22 points.
UNH senior goalkeeper David Fessen has 2.68 goals against average and a save rate of 0.911.
Six of UNH’s last eight games are played at the Whittemore Center.
Next weekend, the Wildcats have UConn #14 for games Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 4 p.m
Maine is coming to town for White Out the Whitt games on Friday, February 17 at 7:00 p.m. and Saturday, February 18 at 7:00 p.m
UNH plays at UConn on Saturday February 25th at 4pm
The Wildcats finish the regular season Thursday, March 2 at 7 p.m. at home against Vermont
UNH is currently bottom of the league with 11 teams, and all teams will advance to the playoffs, which will be single-elimination throughout. The top five teams overall receive a bye to the first round of the playoffs, while teams ranked sixth through eighth receive teams ranked ninth through eleventhth.
The Wildcats are hoping to get ahead and snag an ice rink at home.
“Anything can happen in a one-game playoff series,” said Souza. “There’s going to be some crazy things the way the league has gone this year. We just want to make sure we’re doing our part to keep playing for as long as possible. We’ve always wanted to be the team to play the best at the end of the year.”
Kevin Dean pays a visit
Former Wildcat defenseman Kevin Dean, an assistant coach with the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks and longtime friend of Souza, stopped by after Tuesday’s practice session to speak with the team.
Dean, who has been an assistant with the Bruins for the past five years, was in the area while the NHL is on hiatus for its All-Star game this weekend.