The UConn women’s hockey team is ready for a battle to claim the last spot in the playoffs against Merrimack. If the Huskies win Friday night, they clinch the eighth seed. Depending on how the weekend goes, UConn could land as high as the sixth seed.
“Coming into this weekend, ultimately it is a playoff weekend and we have to treat it as such,” UConn head coach Chris MacKenzie said. “ We have done that the last month anyway. We are celebrating our seniors Friday night and we hope to have a great weekend on the ice.”
Since the winter break ended on Dec. 31, the Huskies are 7-5-2 including a sweep against top-10 ranked Maine. After a quiet weekend on the road in Vermont, the Huskies are glad to be back home where they are 8-2-7.
The Huskies (11-12-9, 5-11-6) goalie Annie Belanger has been one of the best in the Hockey East conference. She is first in save percentage (.934) and second in goals against average (1.92). The senior said the team is ready for the weekend.
“We are feeling relaxed,” Belanger said. “We are confident in ourselves and we’ve played well lately. We are in a good mood and everyone is excited and ready to go.”
After not scoring last weekend, MacKenzie said that there is a way to get the puck in the net.
“Sometimes you run into a hot goalie,” MacKenzie said. “Could we have gotten more traffic? I think that would be something and looking for those dirty, second effort goals.”
Merrimack (11-18-3, 6-14-2) defeated the Huskies 2-1 in their previous matchup on Jan. 5 at Lawler Rink. Forward Katelyn Rae scored both goals, including the go-ahead goal with less than five minutes remaining in the third period.
“They have some great offensive players,” MacKenzie said. “Rae has 20 goals; Mikyla Grant-Mentis is another threat. They have a lot of players with a lot of experience. You don’t see a lot of seniors on their roster, but those juniors have played so many minutes, they might as well be seniors. So, they are a battle-tested team.”
Rae leads her team in goals (20), points (29) and assists (9). Grant-Mentis has been an effective contributor as well, racking up 13 goals and 8 assists. Goaltender Samantha Ridgewell is sixth in the conference for goals against average (2.32) and save percentage (.925).
UConn senior Leah Lum is only three points away from reaching 100 points for her career. Lum was named the Hockey East Player of the Week Feb. 5 after she recorded five points over a weekend sweep.
Freshman forward Natalie Snodgrass has been the go-to scorer for UConn. She leads the team in points (30) and goals (17), which is good for eighth in the conference for each category.
UConn will be honoring their eight seniors before the game Saturday. The class has accounted for 53 victories, which includes reaching back-to-back Hockey East semifinals in 2015 and 2016.
The Huskies will hit the ice at the Mark Edward Freitas Forum Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m. MacKenzie said the focus is on execution and playing hard.
“We are taking nothing for granted,” MacKenzie said. “It’s nice to be on home ice, but anything can happen.”
Michael Logan is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.