By: Patrick Milne
Coach: Dick Umile (28th Season)
Last Season: 15-20-5 (7-11-4 Hockey East, 10th); Lost to UMass Lowell in Hockey East Quarterfinals.
Additions: D James Miller, D Max Gildon, F Kohei Sato, F Eric MacAdams, F Charlie Kelleher, D Benton Maass, G Mike Robinson
Losses: D Matias Cleland, F Jamie Hill, D Dylan Maller, F Tyler Kelleher
As the Wildcats look to the 2017-18 season, they hope to improve on their lackluster 15-20-5 record and a 10th place finish in Hockey East last year. Losing only four seniors from last year’s team, UNH will undoubtedly be a more experienced team than they were last year. However, they did lose two critical players in defenseman Matias Cleland (3g, 32a, 35p) and Hobby Baker Finalist Tyler Kelleher (24g, 39a, 63p), who was tied with Northeastern’s Zach Aston-Reese for most points in all of college hockey. Yet, the Kelleher name is not completely gone from New Hampshire, as Tyler’s younger brother Charlie will step into the spotlight this season. While nobody expects the young Kelleher to put up the numbers his brother did last year, expectations are still high for the freshman to be an impact player.
After their tenth-place finish in Hockey East last year, the UNH Wildcats have significant work to do if they want to be a competitive team. The team will need to improve both offensively and defensively, as they only scored 3.1 goals per game (7th in Hockey East) and allowed 3.4 goals per game (10th in Hockey East). Additionally, New Hampshire’s penalty kill was ranked third to last. The only bright spots for the team was their disciplined play, which led to them taking the fewest penalties, and their power play, which was third best with a success rate of 21.2%.
While the Wildcats have holes to fill and improvements to make, it is not all bleak for this team. With the loss of their best offensive asset in Kelleher, the new leaders for the 2017-18 season will be seniors Michael McNicholas and Jason Salvaggio, who both had impressive junior seasons with 42 and 36 points respectively, as well as Ottawa Senator’s draft pick Shane Eiserman, who had 13 points in the 27 games he played. In addition to those seniors, sophomores Patrick Grasso (20g, 13a, 33p), Liam Blackburn (9g, 9a, 18p) and Brendan van Riemsdyk (5g, 10a, 15p) will be expected to build on their rookie campaigns to spark this Wildcat offense. UNH was also able to recruit some potentially impactful freshman in Charlie Kelleher and Kohei Sato. Kelleher had a great year last season in the USHL, first playing for the Tri-City Storm, netting 33 points in 40 games. Kelleher was then traded to the Sioux City Musketeers, where he had 18 points in 21 games, and helped the Musketeers get to the championship series with 10 points in 12 playoff games. The other especially noteworthy freshman, Kohei Sato, who was born in Japan, had 36 points in 48 games for the Northeast Generals of the North American Hockey League. The Wildcats hope these two players will be able to make the transition to this level of play and start proving themselves as soon as possible.
Though UNH looks to have decent offensive fire power, the real questions lie in their defense and goaltending. Senior Cameron Marks will be relied upon heavily in the upcoming season, as he is the only defenseman who had a positive plus/minus. Other than Marks, senior Dylan Chanter, junior Matt Dawson, and sophomore Anthony Wyse will be looked upon to help lead the defensive core. With that being said, coach Dick Umile was able to bring in two recruits who could significantly help this defensive core. Most notable is Max Gildon, who was drafted 66th overall by the Florida Panthers. The 6’3”, 192-pound Texan played for the United States in the IIHF World Junior Championship, scoring 6 points in 7 games. He will surely be expected to contribute right away.
In between the pipes, UNH does not appear to have many great options. Last year they relied heavily on Daniel Tirone, who finished second to last in GAA (2.99) and 11th out of 14 in save percentage (.910). While not all of the blame can be put on Tirone, there still remains questions on whether or not he can perform at a high enough level to keep this team in tight games. Despite Tirone not having the best performance last year, there may not be a better option. The other net minders on the team are untested sophomore Joe Lazzaro, who only appeared in one game, freshman Mike Robinson, and senior Adam Clarke, who has only won 7 games in 25 starts throughout his three years. UNH will need one of these goalies to step up and be able to perform consistently if they want to be in the upper half of Hockey East.
Bottom Line: In Dick Umile’s last season as head coach before retiring, he has his work cut out for him to get his team back in the top half of the league, let alone getting to a Hockey East Championship. While losing a Hobby Baker finalist will always leave a big hole, and the loss of Tyler Kelleher is no exception to this, UNH does have some talented seniors, sophomores, and freshman who may be able to fill in that hole. The Wildcats main problems lie in their defense and goalies, who will need to improve significantly in order for them to win games, especially against high-powered offenses. While I don’t see UNH being a top five team, I do think they will improve from their 10th place finish last year and could see them placing 6th if things go well for them in the upcoming 2017-18 season.