Hockey East Preview: New Hampshire Wildcats

Last Season: 12–15–9 (8–10–6, eighth place), lost to UMass Amherst in HE quarterfinal

Head Coach: Mike Souza (second season)

Coaches’ Poll Projected Finish: Seventh

Losses

  • D Richard Boyd
  • F Brendan Van Riemsdyk
  • F Marcus Vela
  • F Ara Nazarin
  • F Chris Miller

Additions

  • D Nolan McElhaney
  • D Kalle Eriksson
  • F Lucas Herrmann
  • F Chase Stevenson
  • F Robby Griffin
  • F Joe Hankinson

By Matthew Cunha

In his first year as head coach of the Wildcats, Mike Souza led UNH to their best win percentage (.458) since 2014–15. In the previous three years, UNH had finished 11th, 10th, and 10th in Hockey East and failed to post a win percentage above .438 under longtime coach Dick Umile.

During a stretch between December 7 and February 1, the Wildcats posted an 8–1–3 record, including a win over Boston College and a tie over 15th-ranked Miami. That run helped them sneak into the playoffs after starting the season 2–7–5. They faced off with eventual NCAA runners-up UMass Amherst and came up just short, losing to the Minutemen in a 5–4 double-overtime thriller in Game 1. They got shelled 6–0 in game 2, but nonetheless it was a positive season for coach Souza.

Last season, nine Wildcats produced more than 15 points; only three (Ara Narzarin, Marcus Vela, and Van Riemsdyk) aren’t returning. Leading the way will be senior Liam Blackburn, who produced 24 points last year. Fifth-round NHL pick and Ottawa Senators prospect Angus Crookshank tied for second in scoring with 23. Fellow rookie Jackson Pierson, third-round pick Max Gildon, and junior assistant captions Charlie Kelleher and Patrick Grasso were the other Wildcats to produce at least 15 points.

With plenty of scoring returning and Crookshank and Pierson likely to take steps forward, scoring should not be a problem this season for UNH. Losing Nazarin and Vela to graduation hurts the Wildcats’ bottom line, but there should be enough firepower to fill those gaps. The good news for Northeastern fans: Brendan Van Riemsdyk, brother of NHL player James Van Riemsdyk, left UNH to play his senior season at Northeastern. 

On the back end, UNH will be led by senior defenseman and captain Anthony Wyse. Last season, UNH allowed 2.86 goals per game, ninth in Hockey East. In the net is Mike Robinson, 86th overall pick of the San Jose Sharks in 2015. Robinson has not lived up to expectations in Wildcat land, finishing 10th in Hockey East in goals against (2.48) and save percentage (.915) last season. Seventh-round Tampa Bay prospect Ty Taylor will back him up.

Bottom Line: The Wildcats’ offensive depth should be fine, as they return six of their top nine scorers plus Angus Crookshank and Jackson Pierson. The concern for the Wildcats is the question marks on the back end, where goalie Robinson has not lived up to his potential. If he can break out as a junior, the Wildcats could be in good hands. In his second season, Souza should continue to improve with a top-five finish in Hockey East.

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