Monday, March 28, 2011

Senior captain Sislo leads way for Wildcats

MANCHESTER — Mike Sislo had one goal taken away by video replay in the first period and another confiscated by the opposing goalie on a breakaway in the second.

The third time was a charm.

The senior captain finally scored one that counted when he slammed home a gorgeous diagonal pass from Blake Kessel on the first shift of the third period.

And it stood up as the game-winning goal in the University of New Hampshire hockey team's 3-1 win over Miami Saturday in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

"I had a couple of good, quality chances," Sislo said. "It felt good to get that one in there. I was just happy for all the guys. We've worked hard all year. We were excited to come here and we're looking forward to take advantage of the opportunity."

Sislo's goal snapped a 1-1 tie and left the Wildcats one win away from their first Frozen Four in eight years.

UNH had fast starts and strong finishes in each period while dispatching a dangerous Miami team that entered the game with a 13-game unbeaten streak (10-0-3).

The Wildcats' first goal came 1:53 into the first period that offset the RedHawks' lone goal a minute earlier. Their second was 39 seconds into the third and their third goal came with 1:25 remaining in the game.

"We definitely focus on the first couple minutes of a period and the last couple of a period," Sislo said. "We took advantage of an opportunity and just kind of rolled with it."

The Wildcats went ahead to stay when Kessel found Sislo backdoor for an easy finish. Phil DeSimone also assisted.

"At the second intermission we talked about how we played 40 minutes of pretty good hockey," DeSimone said, "but none of it really mattered unless we come out in the third and take care of business. We wanted to set the tone for the rest of the team."

The second period was beginning to look like last weekend's game against Merrimack in the Hockey East semifinals where the Wildcats had numerous chances but couldn't finish.

UNH failed to capitalize on three power plays in the second. Sislo, DeSimone and Stevie Moses all had point-blank chances, but Miami goaltender Cody Reichard was solid.

"It was important to get the momentum right away," Sislo said. "I think we'd been playing like that prior to that. We stress playing a 60-minute game and I think this is about the closest we've come to that all year."

After the Wildcats scored early in the third period, the RedHawks tried to open it up but were continually frustrated by the Wildcats, who took away time and space from Miami's elusive forwards.

That included Hobey Baker favorite Andy Meile, who was limited to two shots on goal and was essentially a nonfactor.

"We did all the little things," Sislo said. "It wasn't the prettiest game ever but I think we were very disciplined and played very smart. It was one of the most complete games we've played all year."

Now they have to do it again tonight. The Wildcats have won first-round games in each of the past three years, but failed to advance each time.

"We've gotten to this game the last three years," DeSimone said. "Now it's our time to take the opportunity and take advantage of it and not let in slip away."

UNH lost to RIT last year in the regional final after upsetting Cornell, and in 2009 lost to eventual national champion Boston University after beating North Dakota in the first round.

"Being here before, we're well aware we have to come back and do the same thing (tonight)," Sislo said.

"We can't take anything for granted," he added. "You lose, you're done. You don't play well, you're done."

3. Jupp Heynckes, Philipp Lahm

4. No Pak drama on captaincy front

The balance of power in Pakistan cricket has always been a fascinating subject. Pulls and pressures, controversies and one-upmanship have all been an integral part of the set-up there, adding to the intrigue that surrounds one of the most talented but indisciplined teams in international cricket.

Currently, Shahid Afridi is the captain of the limited-overs squads, while Misbah-ul-Haq, a key member of the one-day team, is the regular Test captain. Younis Khan, who led the team with great distinction, is in both squads, but unlike in the past when such a situation might have led to the incumbent looking over his shoulder with concern and mistrust, today the Pakistan team is a happy house, relatively speaking.

Misbah and Younis are both class acts, not just with the bat but also in how they conduct themselves. It is impossible to imagine either of them indulging in scheming and plotting, not ever and certainly not towards the end of their careers.

Armed with the knowledge that he has two intelligent brains to pick from and that he doesn’t have to allow himself to feel insecure, Afridi has grown in stature as a leader. He eventually makes his own decisions but he has the grace and the courage to walk across to his senior members to seek suggestions. Misbah agreed that the brains trust did not always concur on every subject, but said that was no more than par for the course in any multi-individual sphere. 

“There will always be differences in opinion, but we always talk to the captain about what we think,” Misbah pointed out on Sunday. “Shahid is really good at that. He listens to the players, especially the senior players and the coaches. We decide everything with good coordination, that's why everything is going well and the team is performing well. 

It's a big thing, actually, that there is really good communication within the team, especially between the senior players and the captain.” Afridi himself has had an excellent World Cup, not so much with the bat as with the ball, his 21 wickets to date the highest in the competition. He has inspired and led from the front, and his team has risen manfully to his exhortations. “The most important thing is his aggression,” Misbah noted. 

“Also, he has led the team by example. He is performing really well, taking wickets at the right time, so it really helps the team when the captain is performing like that. At the same time, the players too are motivated to contribute their bit. Everybody is right behind him at the World Cup.”
Neha Jain

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