The UConn men’s hockey team will welcome another nationally-ranked Hockey East opponent to the XL Center on Friday night when No. 19 Merrimack travels to Hartford. The Huskies (5-10-0, 3-7-0 Hockey East) are currently riding a two-game winning streak.
UConn faced a tall task last weekend as they carried an eight-game losing streak into a weekend set with No. 5 UMass-Lowell, but the Huskies improbably swept the River Hawks in the home-and-home series. The series represented the Huskies’ first weekend sweep in Hockey East play since joining the league in the 2014-15 season.
Freshman Tage Thompson provided late-game heroics in both wins. On Dec. 5 at the XL Center, Thompson broke a tie with 7:22 remaining in the game by burying a one-timer past goaltender Kevin Boyle on the power play. Thompson’s goal would hold up as the game-winner, as the Huskies secured a 4-3 win to end their losing streak.
The next day, UConn went on the road and took down UMass-Lowell again with a late Thompson goal on the man advantage. This time, his goal came off a nifty pass from fellow freshman Maxim Letunov, giving the Huskies the decisive 2-1 lead with 6:57 remaining.
UConn goaltender Rob Nichols made 57 saves combined during the two wins, as he improved to 5-9-0 on the season in net. Nichols earned the Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week award, while Thompson earned the Rookie of the Week honors for his effort.
Thompson has been the team’s leading goal scorer this season, with seven goals in 15 games. Letunov has recorded 11 assists and 17 points, leading the team in both categories. Joseph Masonius and Johnny Austin have six assists apiece, while Spencer Naas places third on the team with nine points.
Merrimack will come to Hartford riding a five-game winless streak including three losses and two draws. Last weekend, the Warriors were swept by No. 1 Providence in a home-and-home series. Merrimack drew twice with UMass-Lowell when the two teams met for a Hockey East series in mid-October.
The Warriors have a very balanced offensive attack, as three players are tied for the team lead with four goals apiece: Ben Bahe, Brian Christie and Hampus Gustafsson. Those three players have 10 points each, which ties for the team lead in that category. Brett Seney has also recorded 10 points this season, and also leads the team in assists with eight helpers.
Merrimack’s defense ranks fourth in the Hockey East by allowing only 2.14 goals per game. Sophomore goaltender Collin Delia holds a 2.09 goals against average in net, in addition to a .919 save percentage.
UConn played the first Hockey East game in the program’s history against Merrimack last October, losing on the road 2-1 in overtime. The two teams met two other times last season: a shootout win for the Huskies in Newark, New Jersey, and a 1-0 UConn shutout at the XL Center in which Nichols made 32 saves.
Puck drop between the Huskies and the Warriors on Friday is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. in Hartford.
Tyler Keating is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.