Entering the Hockey East playoffs last year, the UConn men’s hockey team was in a tight spot. The Huskies dropped four of their final five games to slide into the No. 9 spot in Hockey East. UConn lost home ice and were swept on the road by UNH.
This year, however, the upperclassmen on the team wanted to make sure that the Huskies didn’t make the same mistake again.
The Huskies turned the tables and swept UNH last weekend to ensure that they would get a home series this year, giving them a much better chance at making a playoff run. The Huskies moved up into the No. 8 spot, and will welcome the ninth-seeded University of Vermont to Hartford for a best of three series starting Friday night.
“We saw what it did last year to us, losing that home ice at the end. We love playing in front of our home fans,” said senior defenseman Kyle Huson. “It’s always a fun time, a loud crowd, and it’s fun to reward them for their efforts in getting to our games.”
UConn is 12th in the nation in average attendance, behind only Boston College and UMass-Lowell in the conference. When the Huskies are playing well, the XL Center can be as loud as any other hockey venue in the country.
Although Vermont swept UConn in the regular season series, the Huskies know that they’re better than what they showed in the two previous meetings.
“I feel like we had a good series with Vermont, but obviously we didn’t win either of the games, and there’s a bit of a sour taste in my mouth,” said defenseman Joe Masonius. “We want to go out there and dominate them, and that’s kind of the goal every week.”
UConn lost a tight 2-1 game on November 13 at UVM and dropped the home contest on January 22 by a score of 4-2. Vermont’s attack is fronted by junior Mario Puskarich, who leads the Cats with 26 points. Jarrid Privitera is Vermont’s leading goal scorer with 10 on the year.
Vermont has struggled offensively this season, ranking 11th in Hockey East in goals per game. The Catamounts average just 2.09 goals per game, leading only Maine. Defensively, Vermont is better, allowing 2.69 goals per game, good for seventh in the conference. Goaltenders Mike Santaguida and Packy Munson have split time for the Catamounts. Each has logged over 1000 minutes for the season.
Since the teams have already met twice, UConn’s players know what to expect from Vermont. The Cats are physical and fast, but the Huskies know that they can outskate them.
“We definitely match up well against them. We just have to play a full 60 minutes,” said Huson. “I think that’s something that we’ve learned in all the games we’ve lost.”
Although UConn’s roster is composed primarily of freshman and sophomores, there is a palpable excitement surrounding the team. The players are excited to have a home series and are ready to get back on the ice. Masonius, a freshman, says that he’s not feeling nervous in the slightest for this game.
“It’s more like energy,” said Masonius. “I honestly can’t wait for the puck to drop. I’m pretty excited.”
Letunov, also playing in his first playoff series, echoed Masonius’s sentiments.
“No nerves at all,” he said. “I’m just excited and I can’t wait to see what kind of crowd we’re going to have.”
Puck drops on Game 1 at 7:05 on Friday night, and on Game 2 at 7:05 on Saturday night. If a third game is needed, it will start Sunday at 5:05 p.m.