February 14, 2008
UNH Looks To Avoid Recent History

By Jeff Howe

The New Hampshire Wildcats find themselves in a familiar position. They've got a comfortable lead in the Hockey East standings and are all but assured of winning the league's regular-season crown barring an unforeseen collapse.

Well, they're hoping they don't have a feeling of déjà vu.

Hockey East Notebook

Mike Radja is getting hot at the right time, as New Hampshire enters a critical portion of its schedule.

National TV Schedule

Last season, UNH was 17-3-1 in the league and had a six-point lead over Boston University for first place with six games to go. But the Wildcats went 1-4-1 down the stretch and hung on to win the league crown by a single point over a surging Boston College. Then, they lost to BC in the Hockey East title game before being outed by Miami in the first round of the NCAA tournament – in Manchester, no less, which is a mere 40 minutes from campus.

"You've got to remember what happened," UNH senior forward Mike Radja said, "because last year we started losing and just thought, 'Oh, well we've won a bunch of games. It will just turn around. It will figure itself out.' And it never did. This year, we're kind of looking back on that, figuring out what happened last year and tweaking it. Everyone seems to be buying in."

The Wildcats sure hope so. They enter this weekend's series against Providence with a 14-4-1 mark and have a five-point lead over BC with eight games to play. But avoiding a late-season swoon is one thing. Radja and the senior class would like to accomplish a little more when the stakes are at their highest.

The UNH seniors are 90-42-15, including this year, and they've gone to the NCAA tournament each of the last three seasons. But they've never won the Hockey East tournament, and their record in the national tourney is 2-3, having never advanced to the Frozen Four.

But Radja believes the culture of this team is different.

"Our captain, [Matt] Fornataro, has been doing a good job at just letting guys know what happened last year [is something] we don't want to have happen again," Radja said. "Everyone has just got to come to rink every day with the same attitude and on the same page, work on all the little things and stuff like that. All the guys are buying into it, which is good, and hopefully we can keep the momentum that we've got going."

And the Wildcats are chock full of that. They're coming off a weekend sweep of Maine in Orono and swept the season series with their hated rivals for the first time since entering Hockey East. UNH has won nine straight games against league opponents and is the only team that has currently clinched a playoff berth.

Plus, they can clinch the regular-season crown next weekend, when they've got Boston College in a home-and-home. If New Hampshire manages to sweep Providence this weekend and then takes both games from the Eagles next week (although those conditions could change based on BC's series with UMass Lowell this weekend), it would clinch the top spot for the league playoffs for the second straight season.

But Providence comes first in Radja's eyes. The Friars stomped UNH, 7-1, at Schneider Arena late last season, sending the Wildcats into a three-game tailspin in which they were outscored 15-4. And don't think the third-place Friars won't be up for the challenge. They've been eliminated by UNH in the Hockey East playoffs in three of the last four seasons, including two straight.

"Every time we play Providence, it's always a good series," Radja said. "It's always a battle. We know what to expect. We went down there last time, and it was the same thing. We know it's going to be a big one.

"We're playing pretty good hockey right now, kind of the opposite last year when we came out hot in November and December and then tapered off. We're playing good now."


Brink of elimination: Boston University coach Jack Parker came to a sobering realization Monday night after the Beanpot consolation game. He noted if his Terriers don't win the remainder of their games, they more than likely will miss out on the NCAA tournament.

BU is 10-14-4 (8-8-3 Hockey East) with eight regular-season games remaining, and it currently sits in fifth place in the conference. Its next six games are against Maine, Northeastern and UMass – all three of which are in serious slumps – before the Terriers close it out with a home-and-home against Providence. A serious run through Hockey East looks manageable, but considering the Terriers are currently riding just their second two-game winning streak of the entire season (and first since Nov. 1-3), one might wonder if they'll miss out on their first national tournament in four years.

Their opponent this weekend is in a much more dire situation. Maine travels to Boston as the ninth-place team in Hockey East, four points behind UMass for the final playoff spot. While the Black Bears have been to three of the last four Frozen Fours, including the last two, their only hopes at getting to the NCAA tourney like in winning the Hockey East tournament.

But they need to get there first.

After a pair at BU, Maine hosts UMass twice, visits Vermont for two and then brings in UMass Lowell for a pair to close out the regular season. But the Black Bears need to take care of themselves first. They've lost five straight, are winless in their last six and have gone 4-13-2 in their last 19 games. Like the Terriers, they're fighting an uphill battle.

"We are in ninth place, and I think that says it all," Maine coach Tim Whitehead said. "We have to climb up here and get into the playoffs. We put ourselves in a position where we can look to win the Hockey East tournament if we are going to get into the NCAAs. We have a long way to go, as we are not even in the playoffs if the season ended today. We have our work cut out for us, but we are excited for that challenge. We are determined to do something special down the stretch here."

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Providence at New Hampshire

This is the second leg of an important home-and-home. While the Wildcats are in the driver's seat to take the regular-season title again, Providence has its sights set on home ice for the first round of the playoffs. It is six points behind first-place UNH and one point behind second-place Boston College. If PC gets swept this weekend, though, it could end up as low as sixth place.

While You’re There: Well, it's Durham, so there really isn't too much. The UNH campus is really nice, so take a stroll around before grabbing a slice at Durham House of Pizza.

Stick Salute

To whoever was driving the vehicle that happened to soak a reporter in the middle of Wednesday's Hockey East coaches' conference call. During Greg Cronin's session, a sudden shriek pierced through the call, after which the reporter responded by apologizing to Cronin. Apparently, a car passed by and hit a puddle, which drenched the flustered scribe, who felt the need to recreate the shower scene from "American Psycho." Cronin deadpanned, "Are you gonna make it?" Simply classic.

Bench Minor

UMass is 1-7-1 since the New Year. In addition, the Minutemen are 0-8-4 this season when failing to score at least three goals.


• Is Northeastern really better than it was a season ago? The Huskies had scored 66 goals and allowed 66 goals through their first 25 games this year, the same exact totals they had through 25 contests last season. But Northeastern had four more wins at that point this year than a year ago.

• Mike Radja registered his 50th career goal and 100th career point during last weekend's sweep of Maine.

• Boston College juniors Nathan Gerbe (14 points) and Benn Ferriero (13) have combined for 27 points in their 12 career games against rival Boston University.

• After beating UMass Lowell 6-2 last Friday, Boston University improved to 20-2-1 in its last 23 games in the middle of Beanpot week.

• Maine goalie Ben Bishop played in his 90th career game Saturday night when he suited up against New Hampshire, which is the fourth most games in net in school history. Scott King (110 games), Blair Allison (103) and Alfie Michaud (98) are Maine's all-time leaders in that category.

• UMass Lowell is 0-7-3 this season when scoring two goals or less.

• Andrew Braithwaite became the second Merrimack goalie to receive a weekly honor by Hockey East this season, as Pat Watson was named the Player of the Week in October.

• With its 4-2 win over Merrimack last Friday, Northeastern equaled its win total (13) from last season and surpassed its Hockey East victory count (10 this year) from a season ago.

• The Friars earned their first win over Vermont at Schneider Arena since Oct. 29, 1993, when they topped the Catamounts, 4-3 in overtime on Saturday.

• Vermont is 4-2-2 in its last eight contests, all against ranked opponents.

A variety of sources were utilized in the compilation of this report. Jeff Howe can be reached at jeff@insidecollegehockey.com.