The University of New Hampshire's sweep of No. 14-ranked Notre Dame, by scores of 4-2 and 5-2 last weekend, gave the Wildcats a nice bump in both the national rankings and Hockey East standings.
The challenge now is to not just stay there, but to climb a little higher and solidify things a little more for the postseason.
After a couple of weeks out of the Top 20 in the national rankings, UNH moved back in at No. 20 and takes on No. 19 Vermont in a pair of games at the Whittemore Center this weekend. The teams play tonight at 7:30 and Saturday at 7.
Vermont is 13-9-3 overall and 5-7-0 in Hockey East.
The Wildcats are at 16-13-1 and 8-6-0.
They are in fourth place in the league, but just a point behind UMass-Lowell and Northeastern, who are tied for second. But they are also only a point ahead of Providence and two ahead of Maine. Vermont is six points behind UNH, but has played two fewer games.
Junior forward Matt Willows was one of many standouts for the Wildcats last weekend.
His highlight film-worthy short-handed goal in the second period on Saturday, when he turned on the jets to get around a defender and in on the Notre Dame goalie, proved to be the game-winner.
"He and (Kevin) Goumas on the penalty kill were fantastic," said UNH coach Dick Umile. "His goal was phenomenal. We were going, 'Bring it to the net, bring it to the net' and he did and deked him. It was a great move."
Goumas, a senior forward, and Eric Knodel, a senior defenseman and captain, had assists on the goal.
Willows leads the Wildcats with four game-winning goals. Freshman Tyler Kelleher and senior forward Nick Sorkin have two each.
Willows has 13 goals and 13 assists for 26 points. He had eight goals and eight assists for 16 points in his first two seasons.
Umile was pleased with many aspects of UNH's game against Notre Dame, including the Knodel-led defense.
Several Wildcats have stepped up their games with junior defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk out with a broken ankle.
Sophomore defenseman Brett Pesce had a goal and two assists in Friday night's game and an assist on Saturday.
"He's playing with an awful lot of confidence," Umile said. "He's physically strong on the puck. He's a hard guy to beat."
UNH goalie Casey DeSmith, a junior from Rochester, had a big weekend as well and now has a save percentage of .924 and a goals-against average of 2.24.
Wildcats Grayson Downing and Kyle Smith are expected back from injuries for this weekend's games.
Vermont had last weekend off and split a series at Boston University the weekend before.
The Catamounts are young in net with a freshman and sophomore splitting the duties. Freshman Mike Santaguida is 8-5-2 with a 2.32 goals-against average and one shutout. Sophomore Brody Hoffman is 5-4-1 with a 2.10 GAA. Senior forward Chris McCarthy leads the Catamounts with 13 goal and 14 assists for 27 points and freshman Mario Puskarich is at 11-12-23. Defenseman Michael Paliotta (3-16-19) is a Chicago Blackhawks draft pick.
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DARTMOUTH moved past Princeton in the league standings with a 5-3 win over the Tigers on Saturday and look to make another move in their next couple of games. The Big Green play only one game this weekend — at Harvard tonight — and then play at St. Lawrence and Clarkson next weekend.
Dartmouth is 4-15-3 overall and at 3-11-1 in the ECAC is in 11th place in the league, one point ahead of Princeton. Harvard and St. Lawrence are tied for 10th, two points ahead of the Big Green.
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PERENNIAL Division III power Norwich came to New Hampshire last week with a 10-1-1 ECAC East record. The Cadets, coached by former UNH player Mike McShane, went home on Saturday night with a 10-3-1 mark in the league.
New England College knocked off Norwich, 4-3, on Friday night in Henniker, and St. Anselm shut down the Cadets, 2-1, on Saturday.
St. Anselm, 8-9-4 overall and 4-7-4 in the ECAC East, followed up with a 2-0 win over Southern New Hampshire on Tuesday. Senior goalie Nick Dries made 48 saves to beat Norwich and had 35 saves against SNHU.
New England College, 14-6-1 and 10-5-0, plays at St. Anselm tonight at 7.
The Hawks beat the Pilgrims, 4-1, in Henniker on Dec. 6 ...
The Southern New Hampshire men, 13-7-1 overall and 5-3-0 in the Northeast-10, play host to Stonehill, 12-9-0 and 6-0-0, on Saturday at 7:30 ... The Plymouth State men, 9-10-0 overall and 7-5-0 in the MASCAC, play Fitchburg State on Saturday at home at 6.
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THE UNH women, 9-16-2 overall and 4-9-2 in Hockey East, play Boston University, 18-9-1 and 11-5-0, at home on Saturday at 3 and Connecticut, 7-19-2 and 4-10-1, at home on Sunday at 2 ...
The St. Anselm women, 17-3-0, have a pair of home games, with Holy Cross today at 4 p.m. and Salve Regina on Saturday at the same time for Senior Day.