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What a weekend for Wildcats in sweep of Maine

Feb. 19—DURHAM — That was as big a weekend as the University of New Hampshire men's hockey team has had in a long time.

The Wildcats, playing in front of two sold-out crowds at the Whittemore Center, swept rival Maine 6-2 and 5-2, jumping from seventh place in the Hockey East standings into a tie for fifth with UMass. The top five teams will received a bye to the league quarterfinals and home ice. Three weekends remain in the regular season.

"They played fantastic," Maine coach Ben Barr said of the Wildcats. "Deserved to win both games this weekend."

The Wildcats (16-11-1 overall, 9-8-1 in the conference) had entered the weekend coming off consecutive losses to No. 1 Boston College and Merrimack. Maine (18-8-2, 10-7-1) had entered the weekend ranked seventh nationally, but dropped to ninth in Monday's latest USCHO.com poll. UNH jumped from No. 19 to No. 16.

"Wins matter at this time of year," UNH coach Mike Souza said after Saturday's win. "You want to stay relevant in the national picture, you want to stay relevant in the league and that's all we've talked about."

Souza said before the Maine series that he had discussed changing lines with his coaching staff. He broke up the top line of Liam Devlin, Cy LeClerc and Ryan Conmy during one practice last week.

But Souza kept that line together and the trio combined for six goals and six assists against the Black Bears.

Devlin, a junior left wing, recorded his first hat trick in Friday's triumph and added a goal and a helper on Saturday. LeClerc, a sophomore center from Brentwood, notched a goal and two assists. Conmy, a freshman right wing, had a goal and three assists on the weekend.

LeClerc and Conmy are both on three-game point streaks.

"I thought those guys like to play (together) and it's not like they had been playing poorly or anything," Souza said. "I just think they've been contributing in other ways and I thought that was going to give us the best opportunity to be successful this weekend. Certainly glad that we kept them together."

Conmy, a Los Angeles Kings prospect, had a goal and an assist while UNH was on the power play in what was the unit's most productive weekend of late.

The Wildcats went 3-for-7 on the man advantage against the Black Bears, with two goals coming Saturday on five-minute major penalties. UNH went 3-for-23 on the power play in its previous four weekends, over which it went 3-5-0.

The Wildcats rank fourth in Hockey East with a 21.9 power-play percentage.

"Special teams was a big part of this weekend — we knew going into it," said UNH sophomore second-line wing Morgan Winters, who broke an eight-game skid without a goal with his second-period tally on Saturday. "We had a couple of injuries this weekend so certain guys had to step up and play in certain spots that they weren't used to and I thought we all did a really good job of adjusting in the game and executing."

Third-line left wing Harrison Blaisdell was among those who filled in due to injury. The Winnipeg Jets prospect replaced Luke Reid on the Wildcats' second power-play unit after Reid suffered an upper-body injury 4:42 into the second period on Saturday.

Maine senior right wing Donavan Villeneuve-Houle received a five-minute major penalty and game misconduct for contact to the head on his hit to Reid.

Blaisdell tied the game at 1-1 by poking the puck by Black Bears goaltender Victor Ostman (31 saves) in front 9:14 into the middle period following a high-slot blast from Luis Lindner.

"He works his butt off for us every single day — practice, games," Winters said of Blaisdell. "He does the right thing every day when no one's looking and to see him step in and be on the power play — I know he was excited — and for him to score, it just brought the bench energy up and everyone was super excited for him."

Souza said Reid, a Nashville Predators prospect, suffered an upper-body injury from the hit but thinks he's "going to be fine." Additionally, senior wing Nick Cafarelli and sophomore goaltender Tyler Muszelik both missed the Maine series with injuries.

With Reid out, UNH spent more than half the game Saturday playing mostly four defensemen: Lindner, Colton Huard, who scored the game-winning power-play goal, Nikolai Jenson and captain Alex Gagne.

Souza said before the Maine series that handling the puck better through the middle of the rink was a big emphasis in practice last week.

"I was really, really proud of the way our team responded this week with the way we practiced and just feeding off the crowd," Souza said.

ahall@unionleader.com