December 3, 2009

UNH enjoying the view

Kelly Paton (photo: Mike Silverwood)

It’s owned a stranglehold on the title in Women’s Hockey East since the league began, but New Hampshire isn’t taking its 10-1-4 start for granted.

Anything but.

“With all the freshmen coming in,” said defenseman Courtney Birchard, “I don’t think we expected to be where we are right now.”

Birchard’s shorthanded goal with 3½ minutes left in regulation snapped a 1-1 tie and led UNH to a 2-1 win at Northeastern Sunday, in a battle between the league’s two highest-ranked teams. It was the 25th straight win by the Wildcats over the Huskies, and reminded us why we’d be foolish to look past them.

Kelly Paton, the Wildcats’ 5-foot-1 dynamo, leads Division 1 in points with 11-17-28. She scored a shorthanded goal to open the scoring against Northeastern and assisted on Birchard’s game-winner.

The third-ranked Wildcats’ only stumble came during an October trip to the North Country, where Clarkson jumped on them, 6-2, and St. Lawrence forged a 3-3 tie a day later.

Kayley Herman, who has split time in goal with Lindsey Minton, is 4-0-2 with a .917 save percentage.

UNH even got to see three of its own take the Whittemore Center ice for a November exhibition pitting the Hockey East All-Stars against the U.S. national team. Former UNH star and Team USA defenseman Kacey Bellamy (Westfield, Mass.) has drawn raves for her play leading up to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

“We were ‘D’ partners last year,” said Birchard. “Good to see her back on the ice.”

NEHJ Player of the Week

Whitney Naslund, sr., Rensselaer

The forward collected five points in a weekend split with Robert Morris, scoring three goals. After a six-game winless streak, the Engineers are 3-3-1 in their last seven, a stretch that includes close losses to nationally-ranked Cornell and New Hampshire.

Looking Ahead

Northeastern at Boston College, Friday

Thanks to a disparity in games played — and BC’s penchant for shootout wins — these two teams sit atop the Hockey East point standings. But the Eagles can’t be happy with a 4-6-6 record, and knocking their crosstown rivals down a peg would be a nice step on the road to recovery.

Around Hockey East

UConn beat Quinnipiac (1-0) and Yale (6-1) to win the Nutmeg Classic for the third straight year. Michelle Binning was named tournament MVP and freshman Kelly Horan (Methuen, Mass.) picked up three assists in the Yale win. … Sarah Appleton (New Canaan, Conn.) recorded a goal and an assist as BU was able to salvage a weekend at Princeton with a 3-2 win. … Northeastern goalie Florence Schelling made 25 saves and recorded her fourth shutout of the season in a 1-0 blanking of Vermont.

Around ECAC Hockey

Harvard goalie Christina Kessler continued her fine season, making 27 stops in a 3-2 win over Dartmouth. She ranks fourth in Division 1 in save percentage (.940) for the ninth-ranked Crimson (6-3-1), who are riding a five-game unbeaten streak. … Sophomore Jess Martino (Winthrop, Mass.) continues to help a strong defense for No. 6 Cornell (7-4-1), which has allowed just 1.67 goals per game, second only to Clarkson in ECAC Hockey. … Harvard freshman defenseman Josephine Pucci had a goal and an assist to lift the Crimson over Dartmouth.

Mike Zhe can be reached at