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The University of New Hampshire women's ice hockey team, ranked 10th in the USCHO.com poll, opens the 2010-11 season October 2 with a Hockey East league game at the University of Connecticut. Game time at the Edward Freitas Ice Forum is 1 p.m. Live stats and video are available through UConn's website.
UNH has a 30-3-4 lifetime record, including last year's season series sweep, against UConn. The Wildcats have won five consecutive meetings and are unbeaten in the last 16 (14-0-2) dating back to the Huskies' 5-4 overtime victory in the 2005 Hockey East semifinals (at Boston U.).
Last season, the 'Cats recorded a pair of 3-1 victories at the Whittemore Center as well as a 4-1 road win in the most recent meeting last February.
In that game at Freitas Ice Forum, UNH took a 2-0 first-period lead on goals by Sarah Cuthbert and Courtney Birchard. The Huskies pulled within one goal before the first intermission. A Kristina Lavoie power-play goal early in the third period extended the Wildcats' advantage to 3-1 and the 'Cats netted an empty-net goal with 1:38 remaining to secure the win. New Hampshire was outshot 25-18 – Lindsey Minton stopped 24 shots – but converted 2 of 3 power-play opportunities while UConn went 0-for-3 with the skater advantage.
In UNH's two home games, the Wildcats compiled a 54-32 shot advantage. The 'Cats were 2 of 14 on the power play and 14-for-14 on the penalty kill. Minton defended the UNH goal both of those games. Also of note, UConn scored first both times.
THE STATE OF NEW HAMPSHIRE
New Hampshire will face off against UConn in the season opener for the second consecutive year and third time since the Huskies joined Hockey East. Last year, the Wildcats recorded a 3-1 victory at the Whittemore Center; in October 2003, the 'Cats were 4-2 victors on the road.
October 2 marks the second earliest season opener in program history. The Wildcats played host to Niagara University on Sept. 29 & 30, 2006.
UNH returns 17 letterwinners from last year's team that finished second in the Hockey East standings and advanced to the NCAA tournament for the fifth consecutive year en route to an overall record of 19-9-5.
The Wildcats also lost four letterwinners from that team, including 2010 Patty Kazmaier Memorial Top 3 Finalist and All-America First Team selection Kelly Paton. She and Micaela Long were the team's top point producers with 51 points apiece.
Six of the nine skaters who recorded double digits in points last season return. Sophomore forward Kristina Lavoie (18-11-29), senior defenseman Courtney Birchard (9-13-22) and sophomore forward Kristine Horn (8-13-21) are the top returners.
The defensive corps returns everyone from last year's squad, and that includes senior captains Birchard, Raylen Dziengelewski and Courtney Birchard. Both goaltenders – senior Kayley Herman and junior Lindsey Minton – also return.
ON THE ROAD
UNH opens the 2011 season with five consecutive road games. It is the longest stretch of consecutive road games at the outset of a season in the 34-year history of UNH women's ice hockey. The previous mark was three games (2000-01 season). In the 1997-98 season, however, the 'Cats opened with a pair of neutral-site games followed by three road games for a total of five consecutive games before playing on home ice.
Overall, this will be the Wildcats' longest stretch of consecutive road games since the team played six straight on the road in February 2001.
New Hampshire has a 28-3-2 lifetime record in season openers and that includes 11-1-1 on the road This will be the third consecutive year that UNH faces off against a Hockey East league opponent in the season opener. Last year, the Wildcats defeated UConn (3-1) and the previous year the 'Cats skated to a 2-2 tie vs. Boston College; both games were at the Whittemore Center.
In the nine-year history of Hockey East, this will mark the fifth time UNH plays a league opponent in the season opener; the Wildcats won all previous four games. The 'Cats also defeated Maine in October 2005 and UConn in October 2003 (at Freitas Ice Forum).
UNH is unbeaten in eight straight season openers with a 7-0-1 record dating back to a 4-3 loss to Ohio State in October 2001. The team's only other losses in a season opener occurred in the fall of 1994 (to Concordia) and 1986 (at Northeastern); UNH is also 7-0-1 in road openers dating back to that '86 loss to the Huskies.
Courtney Birchard is UNH's active leader in career goals (26), assists (40) and points (66).
Raylen Dziengelewski and Courtney Sheary are the current 'Cat leaders in career games played (as a Wildcat) with 98.
Molly Morrison has played in 100 career games, including 68 as a Vermont Catamount in the 2008 & 2009 seasons. She skated in 32 of the team's 33 games last season.
SHOOTOUT SHOT DOWN
Shootouts will not return for a third season in Hockey East this year. The league implemented the shootout system in the 2008-09 season and continued it for the 2009-10 season; in those years, if a game remained tied at the end of the five-minute overtime session, both teams received one point in the league standings and the shootout winner earned an additional point.
The shootout system was not beneficial to UNH, which would have been the 2010 regular-season champs without the shootout. In two seasons, the Wildcats competed in six shootouts and were victorious just once.
BLUE LINE BACKBONE
One of the Wildcats' strengths in the 2011 season will be the defensive unit, which is led by senior captains Courtney Birchard, Raylen Dziengelewski and Courtney Sheary and also includes sophomores Katie Brock and Kailey Chappell. Bryanna Farris, another second-year player, saw ice time as both a defenseman and forward last season.
Birchard, a converted forward who missed the last six games of the 2010 season due to injury, brings an offensive dynamic to the unit. She garnered All-America Second Team and Hockey East First Team All-Star status last year as a junior.
Sheary and Dziengelewski are defensive-minded blue liners, although Dziengelewski did finish tied for third on last year's team in assists with 13.
Brock and Chappell logged lots of ice time last season in various situations (even strength, power play and penalty kill) to return with a wealth of experience after just one season donning the Blue and White.
In the 2010 season, UNH led Hockey East (league only games) in offense (3.10 gpg), power play (.236) and penalty kill (.904); the team ranked third in defense (1.95 gpg).
In the overall stats, New Hampshire also led all Hockey East teams in offense (3.00 gpg) and power play (.275). The Wildcats ranked second in penalty kill (.901) as well as third in defense (2.00 gpg).
New Hampshire led not only Hockey East but the nation in power play percentage last season at 27.5%. The next best power play in the league belonged to Providence College at 17.4%.
In the eight-year tenure of head coach Brian McCloskey, UNH has exhibited a propensity for starting seasons with an extended unbeaten streak.
The Wildcats opened each of the previous two seasons with six-game unbeaten streaks with a 5-0-1 mark in 2010 and a 4-0-2 record in '09. In the 2007 season, UNH opened with nine consecutive wins. In 2005 and 2003, the 'Cats began with seven straight victories.
Last year marked the third time in McCloskey's tenure that the 'Cats had just one loss through 12 games – 8-1-3 last year and 10-1-1 in both the '03 and '07 seasons.
GAME NOTES: #10 WOMEN'S HOCKEY OPENS SEASON AT UCONN ON OCT. 2
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