DURHAM, N.H. -- Coming of its eighth straight trip to the NCAA tournament, expectations are once again high for the University of New Hampshire men’s ice hockey team in 2009-10. Last season, the Wildcats joined Michigan as the only programs in the country to qualify for the NCAA’s over the past eight seasons. Additionally, UNH head coach Dick Umile has guided the Wildcats to 20+ wins in 13 straight years, the second-longest streak in the nation and five seasons more than its closest competition, while no other team in Hockey East has an active streak longer than one season. After struggling through a 1-5-2 stretch in November, New Hampshire went 14-4-2 to close out the regular season and claimed third place in the league and home-ice in the Hockey East quarterfinals for the 13th straight season. However, the crowning moment of the 2008-09 season was the Wildcats’ goal with 0.1 seconds remaining to tie and eventually win 6-5 in overtime its NCAA Northeast Regional opening-round game against perennial power North Dakota in front of UNH faithful at Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester. While the Wildcats’ season ended on a late goal in a 2-1 loss to eventual national champion Boston University, the outlook is once again bright as the Wildcats set their sights on winning a national championship.

Once again, UNH will be led from the net out in 2009-10 by senior netminder Brian Foster (Pembroke, N.H.). Foster, a fifth-round draft pick of the Florida Panthers in 2005, emerged as one of the elite goalies in all of Hockey East and when healthy was dominant in net for the Wildcats. While Foster missed a pair of games in November and struggled through an ankle injury in the first half of the season, he was pivotal in UNH’s second-half run and was one of three netminders in Hockey East to win the league’s goalie of the month honors on two occasions (October, February; Millan, Thiessen). A honorable mention Hockey East All Star selection, Foster ranked third in the conference in win percentage at .688 and fifth in save percentage at .917. In addition, his 15-league wins ranked second in Hockey East. Sophomore Matt DiGirolamo (Ambler, Pa.) emerged as Foster’s backup and will serve in that role once again this season. DiGirolamo picked up his first collegiate win Dec. 11 against Holy Cross as he stopped all six shots he faced in the final 26:25 en route to the victory. Fellow sophomore Tyler Scott (Ridgefield, Conn.) will give the Wildcats valuable depth in the net behind Foster.

UNH once again returns sure-handed veterans on the defense with senior Nick Krates (Palos Park, Ill.) anchoring a solid core of four returners on defense. Krates played in 37 of 38 games and set benchmarks in goals, points and plus/minus during his junior campaign. Krates is joined by three other returners on defense in junior Matt Campanale (Chester Springs, Pa.) and sophomores Blake Kessel (Verona, Wis.) and Damon Kipp (Salmon Arm, B.C.). Campanale was inserted into the Wildcat lineup a third of the way through and proved to be a valuable addition notching his first collegiate point with an assist in UNH’s 6-5 overtime win over Vermont on March 7, a win that gave UNH third place in the regular season. Kessel is the Wildcats’ top returning blueline scorer and served as a lethal weapon on the Wildcat power play. Kessel had a knack for scoring big goals as three of his six goals were game winners including late winners against Mass-Lowell and Vermont at Whittemore Center. Kipp quickly became one of UNH’s most reliable defenders playing in 27 games as a freshman. He notched two points, none bigger than his assist on a Greg Collins’ goal in NCAA Northeast Regional game against North Dakota. Junior Mike Beck (Long Beach, Calif.) is another defender with a lot of experience for New Hampshire. Beck played in 11 games and should compete for an increased role in 2009-10. Adding depth to the UNH defense are three freshmen that could compete for a spot in the Wildcat lineup right out of the gate in Connor Hardowa (Edmonton, Alberta), Brett Kostolansky (Denver, Colo.) and Ansel Ivens-Anderson (Pound Ridge, N.Y.). Hardowa played three years in the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL), leading the Spruce Grove Saints to the 2008-09 regular season title. Hardowa led all defensemen in the AJHL, scoring 63 points in 61 games on 20 goals and 43 assists. After a stellar career at prep school power Shattuck St. Mary’s, Kostolansky played one season for the Chicago Steel of the USHL. During the 2008-09 campaign, he amassed 18 points on a goal and 17 assists. Anderson helped lead the Jersey Hitmen to the regular season and playoff championships in the EJHL in 2008-09. Prior to that season, he played two years for the Junior Monarchs out of Manchester, N.H.

Offensively, the Wildcats return three players with over 30 points a year ago and five everyday players led by senior co-captains Bobby Butler (Marlboro, Mass.) and Peter LeBlanc (Hamilton, Ontario). Butler (9g, 21a) and LeBlanc (14g, 16a) each had 30 points a year ago. Butler is the program’s active leader in points (68), goals (32) and assists (36). LeBlanc emerged as one of the Wildcats’ top scoring threat down the stretch and netted a pivotal overtime goal against North Dakota to give UNH a 6-5 win in the NCAA Northeast Regional. New Hampshire returns the most firepower from its junior class, which accounted for 40 percent of the scoring a year ago. The group is anchored by leading returning goal scorer Mike Sislo (Superior, Wis.). Sislo, who had just three goals his freshman season, erupted for 19 goals and 12 assists and was Hockey East’s Player of the Month in December. Classmates Phil DeSimone (East Amherst, N.Y.), Paul Thompson (Derry, N.H.) and Greg Manz (Wayne, Pa.) will be called upon to provide offensive firepower for the ‘Cats in 2009-10. DeSimone played in all 38 games and set benchmarks in goals (7), assists (11) and points (18). Thompson played in 27 games a year ago with four goals and five assists, tallying eight of his nine points in Hockey East play. Manz played in six games including both games at the NCAA Northeast Regional. He will compete for an everyday spot in the lineup. Three sophomores who gained valuable experience a year ago and are expected to contribute in 2009-10 are Steve Moses (Leominster, Mass), Mike Borisenok (Watervliet, N.Y.) and Kevin McCarey (Baldwinsville, N.Y.). Moses played in 33-of-38 games recording 13 points (5g, 8a). He potted game-winners against Providence (2/14) and Maine (2/6) and is one of six returners with double-figure points a year ago. Borisenok appeared in 11 games notching a goal and an assist despite missing several games late in the season due to illness. McCarey played in eight games as a freshman and could see additional time this season. Five newcomers will look to crack the UNH lineup right of the gate for Umile’s Wildcats. Austin Block (Thousand Oaks, Calif.), Greg Burke (Lee, N.H.), John Henrion (Holden, Mass.), Brett Kostolansky (Denver, Colo.) and Dalton Speelman (San Jose, Calif.) comprise the freshman forward class. Block played two years in the North American Hockey League (NAHL) for the Fairbanks Ice Dogs and served as the team captain for 2008-09 campaign. As a second year player, he led the league in scoring with 73 points in 57 games, (29 goals and 44 assists). Burke missed most of 2008-09 with a season-ending injury. However, the highly talented forward represented his country in the World Junior A challenge just weeks before the injury. He had two points in five games as the United States won the championship for the first time. Burke was drafted in the sixth round of the 2008 NHL Entry Level Draft by the Washington Capitals with the 174th overall pick. Henrion was a first-year player with the United States National Team Development Program (NTDP) after playing junior hockey for the Junior Bruins of the EJHL. John played both center and wing for the NTDP accumulating 31 points in 58 games on 19 goals and 12 assists. Henrion’s schedule while at NTDP included many games against Division I colleges as well as international competition. His season culminated with his participation on the Gold Medal-winning U.S. team in the World Under-18 Championships. Pavelski, whose brother Joe plays for the San Jose Sharks, was a two-year player for the Waterloo Blackhawks. He played in all situations for the Blackhawks in his second season amassing 29 points in 57 games on 13 goals and 16 assists to go along with a +19 rating. He was an especially effective penalty killer throughout the season. Speelman played one year for the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL and registered 21 goals and 21 assists for 42 points in 57 games and was a +30.

The Wildcats will open the 2009-10 season at home with an exhibition match against Acadia University Saturday, Oct. 3 (7 p.m.) and will officially kick off the regular season on Oct. 10 (7 p.m.) at Rensselaer. UNH opens its home slate with national championship finalist Miami University for a two-game home set Oct. 16-17 at Whittemore Center. The games with Miami are part of four straight home games that include the Hockey East opener Oct. 23 (7 p.m.) against Northeastern and the lone home meeting with long-time rival Maine Oct. 24 (7 p.m.). UNH concludes October with a two-game series at WCHA-power Wisconsin. The Badgers, who just missed out of qualifying for the NCAA tournament, are one of college hockey’s most storied programs with six national championships. New Hampshire resumes conference play as it entertains Boston College on Nov. 6 (7 p.m.). The Wildcats then hit the road for three straight Hockey East road games, one against Mass-Lowell and two at Massachusetts. New Hampshire will meet up with defending national champion Boston University on Nov. 20 (7 p.m.) at Whittemore Center for the first time since the team’s heartbreaking 2-1 loss to the Terriers in the NCAA Northeast Regional finals on March 30. The Wildcats will conclude November with the tail-end of the home-and-home with BU and a single game at Merrimack Nov. 28. UNH will leave Hockey East play twice in January with a single game against Cornell on Jan. 3 (3 p.m.) at Whittemore Center and take on intrastate foe Dartmouth College in the ninth annual “Battle for the RiverStone Cup” on Jan. 16 (7 p.m.) at Verizon Wireless Arena. The Wildcats will cap off their regular-season with a home-and-home series with Boston College.

View: Mobile | Desktop