After closing out the regular season with a sweep of Merrimack, the UConn women’s hockey team clinched the seventh seed in the Hockey East Conference. The series will take place Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. at Schneider Arena against the second seed Providence and extend to Sunday at 4 p.m. if a third game is necessary.
Head coach of the Huskies Chris MacKenzie said his team is up for the challenge.
“It’ll be a test; we haven’t played a three-game series (in the regular season) since I have been here,” MacKenzie said. “For me, it’s just making sure we take care of what we can, getting food in us after a game, recovering and taking care of ourselves. That includes not pushing too hard in practice this week. It’s just fine-tuning—getting ourselves ready and enjoying it. If you are enjoying it, you’re going to do well at it. That’s a key factor too.”
UConn (13-12-9, 7-11-6) has eight seniors on the roster who bring post-season experience. In their four years, they have 55 wins and have reached the Hockey East semifinals in 2015 and 2016, while qualifying for the playoffs each season.
The Huskies backbone all year has been their defense, which is first in the conference for scoring defense (1.97). Junior defenseman Kayla Mee has been a thorn in the opposing offenses’ side; she is tied for fifth in the conference for blocks (60).
Senior goaltender Annie Belanger has been a constant for the Huskies all season. She finished the season first in save percentage (.935) and second in goals against average (1.89).
UConn has struggled in the third period, allowing 29 goals, while giving up 17 in the first and 20 in the second. MacKenzie said the team will have to focus on closing out close games.
“It’s small details at this point of the season,” MacKenzie said. “Really trying to be mentally fresh, physically ready and doing what you do best for our team. Whatever that role is, do it the best you can and focus on those moments where you bear down and make a play—that can be the difference in the game.”
Providence (16-11-7, 12-7-5) is 1-1-1 against the Huskies this season but dropped their last match at the Freitas Forum in overtime 3-2. Briana Colangelo provided the heroics for the Huskies’ as she netted her third game-winning goal of the season.
Of the Huskies 13 wins, only three of them came away from the Freitas Forum. They will have to get ahead early and play that physical defense which has led them to a 9-5-2 record since the winter break.
“It’s really just focusing on getting the puck out of our own zone,” Mackenzie said of the defensive game plan. “Either by breaking their forecheck or using breakout patterns in the defensive zone. When it comes time to getting it back, either blocking a shot or battling—once we’re focused on that, we’ll be doing what we want to do.”
The Friars’ goalie Madison Myers was named the Hockey East Co-Defensive Player of the week after she had her third shutout of the season. Overall, Providence has the fourth scoring defense (2.21) in the conference.
Forward Maureen Murphy has been effective for Providence as their leading goal scorer (19). Brooke Boquist leads the team in assists (12).
Offensively for UConn, freshman Natalie Snodgrass has been the leader. Although she has no goals over the last five games, she still leads the team with 17 (second among all freshmen). Senior forward Leah Lum leads in the assist (18) category.
MacKenzie said the team will focus on what they do best.
“Defense starts with our goaltending and it has a trickle-down effect with our team,” MacKenzie said. “We managed to do that for a number of years, play pretty good defense, and now if we can create more offense, we’ll be in a good place. It’s what we have focused on.”
Michael Logan is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.