New Hampshire is one of those teams in Hockey East that you generally pencil in to be somewhere in the top half of the league. After picking up at least 20 wins in 19 of the last 23 seasons, the Wildcats are arguably the most consistent program in the league, even if playoff success has eluded them.
So it was eye-opening to watch UNH stumble to a 1-5-1 start this season, especially with the talented Casey DeSmith returning in goal and five of the top seven scorers coming back from last year’s squad, which went 20-12-7 and ended one game short of the Frozen Four.
Although Nick Sorkin was one of those top seven scorers in 2012-13, a broken hand limited him to 29 games played, and only two goals and 15 assists in his junior year after finishing second on the team the year prior with 35 points (nine goals, 26 assists). This season, the Wildcats hoped for a healthier and stronger finale for Sorkin.
So far, it looks like they might get it, and Sorkin is finally finding his stride just as UNH starts to heat up. The Wildcats are unbeaten in their last five games – all wins, including shutouts of UMass and Northeastern. During that stretch, Sorkin has averaged a point per game, scoring a goal in each of the last four contests. With seven goals, he’s already more than tripled his total haul from last season.
“He worked real hard in the offseason,” said UNH coach Dick Umile (Melrose, Mass.) after the Wildcats beat Northeastern 3-0 Friday night, with Sorkin scoring the game winner. “Last season, in fairness, he had a broken hand and he struggled with that most of the season. He came back, he’s stronger, he’s come in with a great attitude, and he’s a great leader in the locker room, he’s a great leader on the ice. We moved him over to the wing with [Kevin] Goumas, and it’s clicking. He’s doing an awful lot for us.”
When asked about his improvement this year, in which he’s only been held off the scoresheet twice, Sorkin gave the credit to his coach.
“This guy does a great job with me in practice, always tells me to shoot the puck,” Sorkin said, pointing to Umile. “I think that’s a great help for me. I’m just glad to have the opportunity to play where I’m at.
Sorkin’s playing on the left wing with Goumas centering and Matt Willows on the opposite wing. Those three have combined for 15 of UNH’s 40 goals this year, and 18 of the team’s 69 points.
“I love playing with those two, I think we’re really clicking, but it starts with preparation during the week, from Monday all the way up to the game,” Sorkin said.
The Wildcats are reaping the benefits. With the offense firing on all cylinders – and DeSmith’s strong backup (1.88 GAA, .930 save percentage) – UNH has crawled out of the hole it dug early in the season. The early season’s big swings in the standings have UNH sitting in third entering the weekend’s games, with a pair at Providence looming for the Wildcats.
The coach is plenty happy with his team, though he wasn’t hitting the panic button even after the disastrous first couple of weeks.
“Overall, I think we played pretty well even when we were losing,” Umile said. “I think what’s clicking right now is the puck’s going in for Nick, the puck’s going in for Grayson [Downing], we like the lines, it’s just good chemistry going on there, and the guys are playing well as a team.”
Sorkin said the team’s ability to bounce back comes from its ability to take the lumps early on.
“I just think we have good leadership in the locker room,” he said. “It starts with the coaching staff, they really set the standard. Nobody likes losing, but I think we did a great job of just not getting too low, and now we’re going through a high streak here. If we just stay the course, it’ll all work out.”
So it might be time to sharpen those pencils yet again.
Player of the Week
Ross Mauermann, jr. F, Providence
Mauermann scored three goals and added an assist as Providence swept Vermont, including the game-winner in Saturday’s 3-0 victory. On a team with four drafted skaters, it’s the free-agent-to-be Mauermann who’s leading the way with 10 goals and eight assists in 11 games.
Game of the Week
UNH at Providence, Friday, Nov. 22 and Saturday, Nov. 23
Now that the standings are starting to make a little more sense, it’s clear that these two teams are among the league’s best. The Wildcats are just the latest big test of the year for the Friars, who like UNH are unbeaten in their last five games.
Hockey East power rankings
Providence (9-1-1, 5-1-0 HEA) – A couple weeks ago, Jon Gillies (South Portland, Maine) tied the career mark at Providence with his seventh shutout, doing it in 53 fewer games than record-holder Tyler Sims. Well, move over Mr. Sims – in his 45th career game on Saturday at Vermont, Gillies set the new Providence record with 23 saves on 23 Catamount shots.
Boston College (8-2-2, 4-0-1 HEA) – It’s frankly starting to get a little ridiculous, the year Johnny Gaudreau is having. His two-goal, one-assist effort Wednesday night at Harvard was his fifth multiple-point game of the year, and it vaulted him into the national scoring lead.
UMass-Lowell (8-4-0, 2-1-0 HEA) – Foxborough, Mass., native Derek Arnold has come alive of late. After going the first seven games with just one point, Arnold has at least one in each of the last five, including two goals in UML’s 4-0 win over Penn State on Friday.
Notre Dame (8-3-1, 2-1-1 HEA) – Goaltender Steven Summerhays is off to a tremendous start, with his league-leading third shutout coming against Merrimack on Friday. He also had an assist in the game, his fourth, tying him with Bob McNamara for the Notre Dame career record for goaltenders.
New Hampshire (6-5-1, 4-2-0 HEA) – While the UNH offense has caught fire over the last few weeks, goaltender Casey DeSmith (Rochester, N.H.) has also found a groove. In his last four appearances, DeSmith has posted a 0.51 goals against average and .980 save percentage, with a pair of shutouts.
Boston University (5-6-0, 2-3-0 HEA) – The bad news: The 7-0 beatdown Maine handed BU on Friday was the most lopsided defeat by a Terrier team since an 8-1 loss at Providence on Feb. 17, 1995. The good news: That BU team rattled off 10 straight wins following that result, all the way to the NCAA title.
Northeastern (6-5-0, 1-4-0 HEA) – After winning their first five of the season, the Huskies are suddenly on a bit of a skid, and are losers of five of their last six, including the weekend sweep by New Hampshire.
Maine (5-4-1, 2-2-1 HEA) – Four of Maine’s top five scorers are freshmen or sophomores, including team leader Cam Brown (Natick, Mass.), a freshman with 1-8—9 totals so far.
Vermont (3-5-1, 2-4-0 HEA) – The Catamounts will get to enjoy some home cooking for the next couple of months. Sunday’s game against UMass at Gutterson Fieldhouse is the first of nine straight home contests, taking them all the way to Jan. 4.
UMass (3-7-2, 1-4-2 HEA) – Freshman goaltender Mac Haight was third on the depth chart to start the season, but in two games against Boston College, he held the No. 1-ranked offense in the country to just four goals on 61 shots, helping the Minutemen become the first team to grab even a single point from BC in Friday’s 2-2 draw.
Merrimack (3-6-0, 0-3-1 HEA) – The Warriors, who finally picked up a league point in a tie with Notre Dame Saturday night, have figured out half the game: Their defense is 16th in the country with a 2.40 goals against average. Offensively, though, Merrimack is scoring at a woeful 1.80 goals per game clip, fourth-worst in the nation.