College hockey: As winless stretch continues, UNH stays optimistic

Nov. 19—DURHAM — The University of New Hampshire men's hockey team has more than a few reasons to play the could've, would've, should've game.

UNH (3-10-1, 0-9-1 Hockey East) would not have played four games in eight days last month, over which it went 1-3-0, if its original schedule did not change.

The Wildcats should have won their 2-2 home tie with then-No. 13 Providence College on Oct. 28 if officials ruled a near-goal shot in front made it into the net in the final seconds of regulation. Instead, officials ruled the other way.

UNH could have defeated No. 15 UMass at the Whittemore Center on Friday night if it maintained the pace and pressure it put on the Minutemen over the opening 20 minutes. UMass (6-5-1, 2-5-0 Hockey East) came back from a 2-0 first-intermission deficit to earn a 4-2 road win over the Wildcats, ending its five-game losing streak.

UNH coach Mike Souza said the team has resisted the temptation to feel sorry for itself and he has been pleased with its leaders over its current 0-8-1 stretch.

"I think losers have a tendency to conjugate in groups and that hasn't been the case," Souza said after Friday's loss to UMass. "It's been the complete opposite of that. These guys have (been) playing for each other. They practice hard. They want to win so bad and you want them to win so bad. It just hasn't gone our way.

"As long as we stay together, I'm optimistic we can turn this around."

The Minutemen notched three goals over the opening 6:24 of the second period and capped the game's scoring with 4:14 left on a Ryan Lautenbach one-timer. David Fessenden made 21 saves for the Wildcats.

Four of UNH's past six losses have been by two or fewer goals, including a 2-1 overtime loss at Vermont on Nov. 11.

Senior transfer Ryan Black, one of 12 new UNH players this season, said the Wildcats are not down and know what they are capable of.

"I just think it's a long year and it's a learning curve for all of us as a team," said Black, who previously played at Division III Babson College, "and, hopefully, we can keep working, keep pounding the stone and turn it around. And then this will be experience for down the stretch — we get in those one-goal, two-goal games and we have a 2-0 lead. We know what we've done to let that slip and just need to make sure that we don't let that happen again."

Black, a forward, built UNH's 2-0 lead over the Minutemen with 2:08 left in the first period, when he scored from the slot after a Nick Cafarelli offensive-zone faceoff win.

Wildcats freshman Cy LeClerc, a forward from Brentwood, opened the game's scoring with 6:53 left in the first period with his top-shelf, power-play goal from the left wing side. Kalle Eriksson and Colton Huard assisted on the goal.

UNH is 2-for-16 on the power play over its last four games. The Wildcats went 0-for-6 on the man advantage in their 3-1 loss at No. 10 Harvard last Tuesday and 1-for-3 with 12 shots on goal against the Minutemen.

UNH created good movement and pestered UMass goaltender Luke Pavicich (35 saves) on its first power-play chance that came 5:04 into Friday's game. With UNH trailing 3-2 with 7:15 remaining, Wildcats senior captain and forward Chase Stevenson hit the far post from the right circle on a power-play opportunity.

"The point of emphasis was function, not fashion," Souza said of UNH's power-play approach on Friday. "Went a little old school — kind of an umbrella, moved Cy and Colton onto their forehands so they're attacking downhill to shoot. That's how we scored Cy's goal."

Souza said he thought UNH showed its potential in the first period on Friday, calling it one of the team's better periods in a long time.

The Wildcats outshot UMass, 20-5, had long offensive-zone possessions and created several scoring chances in the frame before LeClerc's power-play tally.

"When we talked about it in the locker room, it was probably our best period of the year," Black said. "I think going back and watching that, that's something to build on — see what we did well in that period and try to emulate that and build off that."

ahall@unionleader.com