Campus Currents

Wildcat Endurance
Men's hockey focuses on unity, confidence and resilience.

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Ask the UNH men's hockey players about a pivotal game this season, and they will quickly tell you: the Thanksgiving weekend game in Denver.

In the first nine minutes, the Denver Pioneers slapped three pucks into the Wildcat net during the Nov. 24 game in the Mile High City.

"That was a rough start," forward Kevin Goumas '14 recalls. "But we stuck together and told each other, 'We can do this.'"

The team not only rallied to win the game 6-4, but Goumas and forward Grayson Downing '15 delivered hat tricks, each scoring three goals.

"Our character really showed in that game," says forward John Henrion '13. "We knew we had 40 minutes left to play, and we clawed our way back in."

It didn't hurt that more than 120 UNH fans attended the game to cheer the Wildcats on. (Family and friends of Wildcats defenseman and Denver native Brett Kostolansky '13 also showed up in force, filling nearly 80 seats.) As the Wildcats scored their fifth and sixth goals of the night, the Denver fans fell silent and chants of "UNH, UNH" echoed in the arena.

Beating No. 2-ranked Denver boosted the Wildcats' confidence and status. A week after the game, UNH's ranking soared to become No. 1 in the nation, a distinction the Wildcats hadn't achieved since the 2006-07 season.

UNH hockey
Candace Horgan/
HAT TRICK: Forward Kevin Goumas '14, left, at the Nov. 24 game in Denver, Colo., where he scored three goals.

Though the ranking only lasted a week, as of late January the Wildcats remained one of the top three teams in college hockey. And this season, says head coach Dick Umile '72, is a stark contrast to last year, when the Wildcats ended in sixth place and failed to make the NCAA tournament for the first time in 10 years.

"Last year was frustrating," Umile says. "We found ourselves in just the opposite place, dropping our first four games. There is a lot of pressure when you're up and down with a team, but this season has been fairly consistent. We have more confidence and we've gotten off to a good start."

Confidence, along with resilience and team unity, Umile and his assistant coaches say, is key to the Wildcats' ultimate goal: competing for the national championship.

To foster camaraderie, the team shares most meals together, occasionally goes bowling, and over Christmas break took a trip to Portsmouth to watch the inspirational movie "Shackleton."

Based on a true story, the movie chronicles the heroic leadership of Sir Ernest Shackleton, who with a small band of men embarked on an 800-nautical-mile, open-boat voyage to get help after his ship Endurance became trapped and crushed by Antarctic ice in 1915.

"Everyone played a role to survive," says forward Jay Camper '15, who is part of a group of players that has been dubbed the "energy line" and credited with creating momentum and sparking wins. "The coaches have been telling us that every guy on our team has a role, and if we want to be successful, everyone has to play that out. You may not be the first-line guy, but whatever role the coach puts you in, you have to do the job."

Unlike Shackleton and his crew, the Wildcats aren't fighting for their lives, but they are battling for the Hockey East title and, with luck, a national championship.

"Even in the worst of circumstances, we've got to stay collected," Henrion says. "If we lose a game one weekend, we don't let it get us down. We have a chance to turn this season into something really special. It's the opportunity of a lifetime right in front of us, and that's what we're focused on."

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