By Don Cameron
New England had a chance to bring home another Frozen Four championship in April, but the title-winning process started in March, when the University of New Hampshire Wildcats captured the ACHA Div. 2 national crown.
Held at the New England Sports Center in Marlboro, Mass., the ACHA Div. 2 nationals featured the top 16 teams in the country at the Div. 2 “club” level. UNH turned back Florida Gulf Coast University in the championship game, 5-3, to claim its first ACHA title.
“Our depth was key. I was running three lines because our team was so deep that I didn’t have to match lines. That was a huge bonus for us,” said UNH coach Stephen McIsaac.
McIsaac likens his team to the “JV” squad of the NCAA Div. 1 Wildcats. And there is no shortage of talent on the roster, led by Sean Leahy, a product of Oyster River High School in Durham, N.H., who led the team with 39 points on 21 goals and 18 assists in the regular season.
Blaine Cardali (12-20-32) of Brunswick, Maine, and Austin Sprague (13-18-31) of Manchester, N.H., were offensive cogs, too. In goal, Neil Scancerella went 9-2 with a 2.39 goals-against average, while Dylan Palmer (North Hampton, N.H.) was 6-2 with a 2.60 GAA.
Palmer, a former standout with Winnacunnet High School and then with the New Hampshire Junior Monarchs, got the nod in the national tournament, turning back 39 saves in the championship game en route to tournament MVP honors. Leahy, Palmer and Zach Bradanick (Salem, N.H., Valley Jr. Warriors) were named to the All-Tournament first team, while Sprague was named to the second team.
Sprague led the Wildcats in tourney scoring with five goals and two assists for seven points in the five games, with Cody Nizolek chipping in 3-3-6.
UNH won its tourney opener but dropped its second game. Starting in Game 3, the ‘Cats were on a mission. “They just came out and wouldn’t let anyone dictate the pace,” McIsaac said of the team’s play the rest of the way.
The ACHA, which started with 48 teams in 1991-92, now features more than 400 teams in thee men’s and two women’s divisions, with teams in every state except Hawaii.
“I really think this weekend showcased the great opportunity the ACHA provides college students all over the country to continue playing great hockey when the NCAA path either doesn’t work out or isn’t the correct fit,” said Greg Dwyer, the tournament director and a Northeastern Huskies player. “I believe the NESC will be a great place for the ACHA to continue to highlight itself for years to come.”
This article originally appeared in the April edition of the New England Hockey Journal. Click here to access the FREE digital edition.