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Jul. 7—University of New Hampshire men’s hockey coach Mike Souza said there is no overarching characteristic to his incoming freshman class but all five players have size, skill and veteran experience at the junior hockey level.

The Wildcats added two defensemen in Bedford’s Alex Gagne and Colton Huard and three forwards in Robert Cronin, Will Margel and Connor Sweeney.

“I think their successes at previous levels will translate to success here in Durham.”

Gagne (6-foot-4, 207 pounds), who graduated from Bedford High School last year, earned a franchise-record 35 plus-minus rating and registered 26 points (three goals, 23 assists) over 53 games for the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the United States Hockey League last season. The former New Hampshire Avalanche player was a member of the U.S. Under-18 Men’s Select Team in the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup and has been invited to the World Junior Showcase later this month.

Huard (6-foot-3, 200 pounds) helped the USHL’s Chicago Steel win the 2021 Clark Cup Championship, posting three goals and 18 assists over 53 games. The Foothill Ranch, Calif., resident also helped the North American Hockey League’s Aberdeen Wings win the 2019 Robertson Cup by posting two goals and 14 assists that season. Huard’s dad, Bill, played in eight NHL seasons with the Boston Bruins, Ottawa Senators, Quebec Nordiques, Dallas Stars, Edmonton Oilers and Los Angeles Kings.

Souza described Gagne and Huard as big, cerebral players who have a great pedigree coming out of the USHL.

“Both kids were top plus-minus defensemen in that league,” Souza said. “That gives us a snapshot of what we can expect from them here. They’re guys who make the right decision breaking pucks out so we spend less time in our own end. They can also get up in the play when the situation presents itself.”

While recruiting Gagne, Souza said he was impressed with the blue-liner’s size and decision making.

“He’s got a real high work ethic, he wants to be a pro, he wants to be a player at the highest level and the fact he’s a New Hampshire kid adds to that excitement for us,” Souza said.

Souza commended Wildcats assistant coaches Jeff Giuliano and Glenn Stewart for their efforts recruiting Huard remotely during the pandemic through Zoom calls and watching game footage. They also worked with Associate Athletic Director for Hockey Operations Colin Shank and Director of Wildcat Productions Ben Gilbert to create a video presentation for recruits, highlighting the program and university considering campus visits were prohibited by the NCAA.

“Technology has made a lot of things simpler when it comes to recruiting even pre-COVID and a lot of those things were enhanced or maybe utilized more during COVID,” Souza said. “We had no choice. We couldn’t go out on the road.”

Cronin, Margel and Sweeney will look to help the Wildcats replace some of the offensive production the team lost with the graduations of Charlie Kelleher and Patrick Grasso and the departure of Angus Crookshank to the Ottawa Senators’ organization. Grasso and Crookshank were among UNH’s top four scorers last year and Kelleher finished third in points as a junior.

Cronin (5-foot-10, 187 pounds) recorded 30 goals and 31 assists over 92 games for the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the USHL. The Plymouth, Mass., resident led Dubuque in scoring last year with 28 goals and 25 assists.

Margel (5-foot-9, 165 pounds) made the North America Hockey League All-East First Team last year after logging 25 goals and 36 assists in 42 games for the Johnstown Tomahawks.

Sweeney (6-foot-2, 200 pounds) tallied three goals and 14 assists over 31 games for the Islanders Hockey Club in the National Collegiate Development Conference last season. The North Andover, Mass., resident recorded 48 points (16 goals, 32 assists) over his 60 career games for Lawrence (Mass.) Academy. Sweeney’s dad, Bob, was the 1983 Beanpot MVP as a freshman at Boston College and played in 10 NHL seasons for the Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, New York Islanders and Calgary Flames.

The freshmen are currently on campus taking a class and working with both the team’s strength and conditioning coach John Ciani and athletic trainer Glenn Riefenstahl. Some of UNH’s veteran players like senior defensemen Ryan Verrier and Will MacKinnon and junior defenseman Kalle Eriksson are also in Durham working with the incoming class.

“The leaders on the team are already acclimating this freshman group into our team and I know that we’ll be better for having them here this July,” Souza said. “I’m excited to get on the ice the first of the school year, get after it, start competing and winning some hockey games.”