November 23, 2012

Hockey East Journal: DeSmith a brick wall for Wildcats

By Andrew Merritt

UNH goalie Casey DeSmith leads Hockey East with a .961 save percentage. (Dave Arnold Photography)

In hindsight, it almost seems like it should have been a foregone conclusion.

Casey DeSmith (Rochester, N.H.) was one of the best goaltenders in the USHL in 2010-11, with the commensurate eye-opening stats (22-13-2 record, .920 save percentage, and a 2.54 goals against average in a year when the leader had a 2.00), and accolades (multiple league goaltender of the week awards, selection to a select team that played in the 2010 World Junior A Challenge).

Still, when he arrived at New Hampshire, the expectation was that he’d have to wait for a chance to shine on the college stage. Senior Matt DiGirolamo had the inside track to the No. 1 job in 2011-12, after playing all but 2:17 of the season before and posting a solid 2.44 GAA and .923 save percentage.

After DiGirolamo struggled through the first half of the season, though, the freshman DeSmith got his chance a little earlier than expected. He never looked back, playing all but one of the Wildcats’ final 21 games in 2010-11 with a 2.33 GAA and .926 goals against for the year.

This year, there was no doubt about DeSmith’s place in the pecking order, and as a sophomore, he’s been even better.

Through 10 games, DeSmith is far and away Hockey East’s top goaltender. His 1.19 GAA is almost a half a goal per game better than No. 2 Kevin Boyle from UMass (not to mention way below the all-time UNH single-season record held by Ty Conklin), and DeSmith’s save percentage (.961) is 20 points better than Boyle’s.

More importantly, DeSmith is 8-1-1 on the year, and 6-1-1 against Hockey East teams, putting UNH three points behind first-place Boston College, where they’ll both stay until conference play picks back up next week.

DeSmith has been recognized as Hockey East’s defensive player of the week four times already this season, earning the nod this week after a pair of wins against UMass-Lowell and Boston University that included his third straight shutout. He earned a spot in the UNH record books as well, running his scoreless streak to a program-best 203:32 before the Terriers scored early in the second period on Sunday, Nov. 18.

The Wildcats are off to their best start in 44 years. There are a few reasons, including a high-powered offense scoring more than three goals per game, led by junior Kevin Goumas, senior Austin Block and sophomore defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk, who are all among the league’s top 10 in scoring. But it’s clear that the Wildcats are a defense-driven club, allowing the league’s fewest goals per game. They’ve allowed 12 goals over 10 games, a year after giving up 12 in their first three contests.

At the center of that is DeSmith, and it appears that the Wildcats, a program known for producing top-level puckstopping talent like Conklin, Mike Ayers and Kevin Regan, have their next great goaltender.

Player of the Week

Derek Army, jr., Providence

The North Kingstown, R.I., native has been through a lot in his two-plus years at Providence, including watching his father’s tenure end after 2010-11. So it was a sweet reward that he scored his first career hat trick on Nov. 16, leading the Friars to a win over Northeastern.

Games of the Week

UNH at Colorado College and Denver, Friday and Saturday

The Wildcats face a big non-conference test with their western road trip, playing the WCHA’s fourth- and first-place teams, respectively. Saturday’s clash with Denver also pits No. 3 UNH against the team right above it in the national polls.

Power Rankings

Boston College (9-1-0, 8-1-0 HEA) – The Eagles dug themselves a big hole against Merrimack on Nov. 16, staring up at a 3-0 deficit with just 5:51 gone in the second period, but they dug out of it incredibly fast, scoring three goals in just a shade over five minutes to tie it, and Steven Whitney (Reading, Mass.) scored his second of the game in the third period to win it and keep BC undefeated.

New Hampshire (8-1-1, 6-1-1 HEA) – The Wildcats are on a four-game unbeaten streak, and have allowed just one goal over that stretch, polishing off a pair of wins with DeSmith’s 45-save effort Sunday against BU.

Boston University (6-4-0, 5-3-0 HEA) – Charlestown, Mass., native Matt Grzelcyk continued his six-game point streak with an assist against UNH on Sunday, which gave him 10 points and the top spot among the nation’s freshman defensemen in scoring.

Providence (5-5-1, 4-3-0 HEA) – The Friars, led by Derek Army’s hat trick, posted an impressive 6-2 win over Northeastern on Nov. 16, which takes some of the sting out of a non-conference loss to Quinnipiac on Nov. 20.

Merrimack (4-6-1, 3-3-1 HEA) – The Warriors are on a three-game slide after a 4-3 loss to BC on Nov. 16 that saw them jump out to a 3-0 lead but surrender three goals in a matter of 5:14, and then the game-winner in the third.

Northeastern (4-6-1, 2-6-1 HEA) – The Huskies have made some hay at home this year, with a 4-1-1 record at Matthews Arena, but they’re still 0-fer on the road, and took their fourth and fifth road losses last weekend at Providence and Vermont.

UMass-Lowell (3-5-1, 2-4-1 HEA) – After being shut out by DeSmith and UNH on Friday, the River Hawks bounced back in a big way at UMass, scoring six goals including captain Riley Wetmore’s third of the game before the Minutemen found the net at all in an 8-2 win Saturday.

UMass (4-5-1, 3-5-1 HEA) – It was feast and famine for the Minutemen in their three-game-in-five-day stretch before Thanksgiving. First came the 2-2 tie at Maine, followed by the 8-2 shellacking at the hands of UMass-Lowell Sunday, and a two-goal performance by Branden Gracel to lead a 3-1 victory Tuesday against Vermont.

Vermont (2-5-2, 2-5-2 HEA) – Though UVM dropped two out of three over the five-day pre-Thanksgiving slate, Sunday’s win over Northeastern snapped a four-game losing streak against the Huskies. Although he was a scratch, sophomore Kyle Mountain also got some bragging rights just in time for the Thanksgiving dinner table, as big brother Bryan, a senior, was in net for Northeastern.

10. Maine (2-9-1, 1-5-1 HEA) – Senior Mark Nemec didn’t score at all in his junior season, but after scoring the first goal in Maine’s 2-2 draw with UMass on Friday, he’s one of only two Black Bears with more than one goal this year.

Andrew Merritt can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @A_Merritt.