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College Hockey: Strong skating a family affair for Sato

By ALEX HALL
New Hampshire Union Leader

January 18. 2018 10:11PM




When watching Kohei Sato compete for the University of New Hampshire men’s hockey team, it is impossible not to notice his speed.

Considering the freshman forward’s lineage, it is not difficult to determine why that is one of his biggest strengths on the ice. Sato’s grandfather was an Olympic speed skater for Japan and his father played professional hockey in Japan.

Sato, who grew up in Nishitokyo, Japan, started playing hockey and competing in speed skating at age 2. While his grandfather passed away before he was born, Sato’s father was playing professionally when he was growing up, which he said played a big factor in drawing him to the sport.

“At first, I kind of struggled because speed-skating strides and hockey strides are two completely different things but now….I believe that I took the pros from both sides and put it together,” Sato said.

It took Sato a few games to get comfortable at the collegiate level but at this point in the season he has figured out how best to utilize his quickness.

“He gets rushes or semi-breakaways with his speed,” UNH coach Dick Umile said of Sato. “He can go by people and he’s getting to learn the game….He’s as fast as we’ve seen and we’ve had a couple of fast guys here.”

Sato made his UNH debut in a 2-1 loss to Colorado College on Oct. 21 and has recorded one assist over 14 games heading into the Wildcats’ two games at rival Maine tonight (7) and Saturday night (7:30). He has played primarily on the Wildcats’ third or fourth line this season. Sato, Frankie Cefalu and Charlie Kelleher have skated together on UNH’s fourth line each of its past four games.

This season marks Sato’s fourth in the United States and ninth in North America. When he learned about college hockey once he came to the U.S. after five seasons in Canada, Sato knew it was for him and he wanted to play at the Division I level.

Working with the UNH coaching staff this season has helped Sato develop his game and given him more confidence. His biggest area of focus right now is fine-tuning his defensive play. Sato currently owns a minus-4 plus-minus rating.

“As a freshman, especially, you don’t want to get scored on,” Sato said. “I’m trying to defend the house and (goalies) Danny (Tirone) and (Adam) Clark. Those guys (are) out there working their butt off so I feel like I should be doing the same.”

After hearing stories from his older teammates, Sato is looking forward to experiencing the atmosphere of a UNH-Maine game at Harold Alfond Sports Arena for himself this weekend.

The Black Bears (12-9-2, 6-6-1 Hockey East) are 7-2-2 since returning from the Friendship Four tournament in Northern Ireland in November. UNH (9-11-2, 4-7-1 Hockey East) is 0-6-1 over its last seven contests.

“I think we’re ready for it and we’re super excited to get there and play,” Sato said.

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At the end of last season, Plymouth State University women’s hockey coach Mykul Haun challenged goaltender Emelie Lindqvist to take her game to the next level.

Lindqvist, a junior from Gullerasen, Sweden, accepted that challenge and is on track to make her this season her best yet for the Panthers.

Lindqvist has started 14 games this year, eclipsing her mark last year (12). Her .938 save percentage and 2.19 goals against average heading into the Panthers’ home game Thursday against Oswego State ranked second and third, respectively, in the NEHC.

“The biggest thing I’ve seen is her playing within herself compared to last year or previous years,” said Haun, who is in his second season leading the Panthers. “She doesn’t try to do too much. She’s relying more on the team than maybe in the past.”

Haun said the addition of a team goalie coach this year has benefitted Lindqvist. Briar Bache, the Panthers’ goalie coach, has worked with Lindqvist throughout this season and taught the netminder new skills that have improved her game.

Haun, who played for the Plymouth State men’s hockey team in college, said Lindqvist’s play boosts the morale of his other skaters during games.

“When you try to put together a team and a recruiting list at whatever level you’re building at, you know you’re looking for six or seven solid players and one of the first pieces you have to build around is goaltending,” Haun said. “It’s big for our confidence and big for where we’re trying to bring our program.”

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The St. Anselm College men’s and women’s hockey teams will don pink this weekend for their eighth annual Pink in the Rink event.

Both teams have been raising money throughout the week and will continue to do so this weekend for the breast cancer research wing at Catholic Medical Center in Manchester. The programs have raised more than $20,000 for the research wing since creating the event.

The men’s team will wear pink warmup jerseys both tonight (7) and Saturday (4 p.m.) for its two home games against Northeast-10 Conference foe Assumption College. The women’s team will wear pink alternate jerseys for its 1 p.m. bout with in-state foe Franklin Pierce University on Saturday.

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Plymouth State men’s hockey senior Chris Zuccaro was selected to the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference weekly honor roll this week. The forward from Hudson logged a goal and two assists in the Panthers’ 5-3 victory at Fitchburg State University on Jan. 11.

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St. Michael’s College men’s hockey freshman Niall Foster was named the NE-10 rookie of the week this week. The forward from Newmarket recorded his first career point when he scored the game-tying goal in the Purple Knights’ 4-3 victory at Assumption last Saturday. Foster, a St. Thomas Aquinas of Dover graduate, also won five of 10 faceoffs in the triumph.

The NH College Hockey column runs Fridays during the season. Alex Hall can be reached at ahall@unionleader.com.


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