Move over "Tebowing" because "Mosesing" has arrived.
Where UNH Stands:
The UNH men's hockey has found itself in unfamiliar territory. Towards the bottom of Hockey East looking up. At the moment the team sits at 8-11-2, which puts them at eighth in Hockey East, with just 13 games remaining to be played. Eight teams qualify for the Hockey East playoffs and the winner of that tournament receives an automatic bid to the national tournament. UNH has the second longest streak in the country for consecutive national tournament appearances and that streak will most likely end unless they win the Hockey East tournament. The national tournament has 16 teams qualify and the last teams in are usually a few games over the .500 mark depending on the automatic bids.
Out of UNH's final 13 games, the next four will see their toughest competition. This weekend UNH plays a home and home series (meaning one game at both schools) with Merrimack, who sits in 3rd in Hockey East and 7th nationally. Next weekend UNH plays another home and home, this time against Boston College who is in 2nd in Hockey East (technically tied with BU for 1st , but with one more game played) and is 4th in the national rankings. While those games will be a huge four game stretch to determine UNH's talent and mental toughness, the remaining nine games will be even more important when it comes to the seeding for the Hockey East tournament.
Of those nine games, UNH plays Providence twice (a home and home series), Vermont twice (both home) and UMass twice (both away) with single games against Northeastern (home), a third game with Merrimack (away) and finally Maine (away). Northeastern and Vermont are currently the only two teams behind UNH in Hockey East. In their previous meetings UNH has split with Northeasten (a 4-0 loss and a 5-2 win) and tied Vermont 4-4 in Burlington. Those will be three very important games that UNH desperately needs to win as the favorite, especially with all three being played at the Whit, where UNH has played better than on the road. The series with Providence will also be huge. UNH won in Providence last week 1-0, ending a 5 game losing streak (the longest in Coach Umile's tenure). Providence is a surprising 5th in Hockey East, but they could very well drop as the season comes to a close.
The UMass series could have the single biggest impact for UNH heading into post season play. UMass sits directly above UNH in Hockey East, but the Minutemen are only ahead of UNH by a single point. In their only meeting this year UNH beat UMass 7-3 at the Whit, which was followed by a win over Maine and marked the last time UNH won consecutive games until their wins over Providence and Dartmouth these last few days.
What Needs to Happen?
For UNH to make a strong push heading into the Hockey East playoffs, a few things need to happen.
- First of all, they are not in a spot to lose games they are supposed to win. They currently sit in the final playoff spot with only a point on Northeastern (with a game in hand), but are six points up on Vermont (also with a game in hand). Vermont is all but done, which makes those four points very valuable to UNH when UVM comes to Durham in February. That being said, UNH needs to play tough over the next four games, to keep their confidence up and not play down to the level of their opponents in the games that follow.
- Secondly, Stevie Moses has to stay hot. Red Hot. Parting the Red Sea Red Hot. The alternate captain has five goals in their last two games (both wins) and he needs to have the hot hand for UNH to make things interesting. Everyone knows Moses is fast, but he has developed a great shot and can beat defenders in many ways.
- However, Moses can't do it all. Players like John Henrion, Kevin Goumas and Nick Sorkin need to keep scoring as well to keep some of the attention off Moses. Those four have been solid of late, but someone else will need to step up. Freshman Grayson Downing has shown signs of his scoring touch, but upperclassmen like Greg Burke or Austin Block need to produce more consistently. Burke had a bit of a hot streak going, but has been held pointless for a few games now.
- Casey DeSmith needs to play like a veteran. DeSmith, a true freshman, has replaced struggling senior Matt Digirolamo in net and has exceeded expectations. DeSmith needs to have ice in his veins down the stretch because with high powered teams like Merrimack and BC coming to town he can't let his confidence be hurt when UNH plays lesser opponents.
- Defense, defense, defense. It's been the ugly of the ugly for UNH all year and it is the team's number one aspect that has to improve. Junior Brett Kostolansky, who started as a freshman, is currently skating at -10. Someone with his experience needs to be more effective.
- Will another freshman please stand up? Aforementioned DeSmith and Downing have been excellent at times this year, but another freshman (or more) may need to take on a bigger role down the stretch. TvR has been very solid from the blueline (also chipping in 12 points) and is second on the team with a +7. I'm looking for players like Casey Thrush (9 points and a team high +8) or Jay Camper to have a bigger impact down the stretch.
Stay classy not UMassy... and keep believing in UNH.