DURHAM — Last October, Jackson Pierson got his collegiate hockey career off to a nice start with a goal in his first University of New Hampshire hockey game at Colgate.
This season, Pierson doubled his fun: He scored a pair of goals in the Wildcats’ opening night win at Miami University in Ohio on Oct. 11.
Give him marks for consistency in another way as well. The sophomore forward has contributed two points in each three of UNH’s three games thus far. He had a pair of assists in the Miami rematch in the second game of the series and assisted on both goals in a 3-2 overtime loss at Bentley last Friday night.
“He was consistent last year, too,” said head coach Mike Souza. “He’s a real cerebral player. He’s skilled. He can skate. He’s reliable. He’s gotten stronger. He’s gotten quicker. He’s a little bit heavier on pucks. He’s a guy we rely on in all situations.”
The Wildcats will be relying on Pierson and his linemates — he’s been teamed with juniors Charlie Kelleher at center and Patrick Grasso at right wing through the first three games – along with many others as they open the Hockey East portion of their schedule this weekend.
UNH, 1-1-1, plays at Merrimack College in Lawler Rink in No. Andover, Mass. on Friday night at 7 and moves on to face Boston University in Agganis Arena on Saturday, also at 7 p.m.
The games at Merrimack, 1-4-0, and BU, 1-1-1, wrap up a five-game set of road contests to open the season.
The Wildcats return home to play their first game of three straight in the Whittemore Center on Friday, Nov. 1 at 7 p.m. against Boston College, ranked No. 10 in the USCHO poll.
The Wildcats follow BC with a game the next night, Saturday, Nov. 2, against Dartmouth at the Whitt at 7.
Pierson’s two points per game rank him tied for seventh in the country in that category. He’s second on the team in scoring behind Kelleher, who is fifth in the country at 2.33 points per game with his two goals and five assists. Grasso has a goal and three assists.
Junior defenseman Benton Maass said Pierson’s increased level of confidence this season is noticeable.
“Playing with Charlie and Pat helps, too” Maass said. “They’re both really good players. But at the end of the day, he’s playing with a lot of confidence and making a lot of the little plays that are necessary at this level.”
Last season, Pierson finished sixth on the team in scoring with eight goals and 11 assists for 19 points and was second among freshmen behind Angus Crookshank, who had 10 goals and 13 assists for 23 points.
“Another year of experience just helps your confidence,” Pierson said. “Playing under the coaching staff a second year helps, too, knowing what they want and how they want to play.”
Pierson, 5-foot-9 and 16 pounds, and Kelleher played together regularly last year, often with senior Ara Nazarian as a linemate.
“They’re smart players,” Souza said. “They know where to be and when to move the puck. They play connected. They do a nice job and their skills take over and allow them to make plays in the tight areas. That’s what they’re really good at. Both guys have good sticks and they’re able to make plays in tight areas and you need to do that in order to generate offense.”
The ability to play in tight areas should come in especially handy in the confines of a smaller rink, such as Lawler.
Pierson, Kelleher and Grasso’s have been major contributors to a successful power play that leads the nation thus far.
The team has scored six power goals in 14 chances for a 48.9 percent success rate. Both of Pierson’s goals in the opener came at even strength. Three of his four assists have been on power play goals, two by junior defenseman Max Gildon and the third on a Grasso third-period goal that earned the tie against Miami.
The Wildcats take the power play back on the road this weekend, aiming to manage the puck better than they did in the loss at Bentley and get off on the right foot in league play.
UNH swept a two-game set with Merrimack last year and lost a pair of games to BU. The Wildcats are 0-7-2 in their last nine with the Terriers. “Everyone’s super excited,” Pierson said. “That’s what you came here for, to play Hockey East games. You’re playing against good teams. It’s a lot of fun.”