With the team’s confidence on the rise after a pair of wins on its home ice, UConn prepares for a home-and-home series with Hockey East rival Boston University. UConn sits at 10th in the conference while BU sits in seventh heading into Friday night’s game at the XL Center.
The Huskies (9-17-2, 4-12-2 Hockey East) upset the then No. 13 ranked Northeastern Huskies in overtime fashion just a week ago. Two days later, UConn completely overpowered the Merrimack Warriors, shutting them out 5-0 in front of the largest home crowd in program history. Head Coach Mike Cavanaugh likes the way his team is playing heading into the matchup against BU.
“Well it certainly helps. It’s much easier, when we play next Friday night, coming off of two wins than it is two losses,” Cavanaugh said following the win over Merrimack. “I think the kids are seeing right now that it’s a team that has potential when we play the right way, and we compete on pucks and we play together and we support in the right areas, that we can be a very dangerous team in this league.”
The recent surge of high-level play from the freshman class powered the Huskies back into the win column. Ruslan Iskhakov has been right at the center of things. Over the last three games, the Islanders’ second round draft choice has scored seven points on three goals, four assists and was named the Pro Ambitions Rookie of the Week for his effort. He had previously gone 10 straight games without recording a point.
“He’s 18 years old and he’s coming from Russia. It’s not an easy adjustment,” Cavanaugh said of his freshman forward. “He’s not used to the style of play that’s played over here in North America, I think that was an adjustment. Academically it’s a whole new curriculum for him, that’s an adjustment. Now I think you’re starting to see the player that we saw when we recruited him. I think he has potential to be a real special player.”
Along with Iskhakov, freshman goaltender Tomas Vomacka continues to leave his mark on each game. Since entering at the start of the third period against Boston College two weeks ago, Vomacka has won back-to-back starts, improving his personal record to 4-5 this seaon. The 2017 fifth round draft choice of the Nashville Predators, Vomacka held the 26th ranked scoring offense (Northeastern) to just two goals and earned his first career shutout against Merrimack. Who will start against BU still remains a question.
“I think that’s (who will start) is up to coach,” Vomacka said. “Adam (Huska) was playing great, so we’ll see. Whoever’s in the net, we’re going to support each other and help the boys win the game.”
Vomacka will be relied on heavily in an effort to beat the Terriers for the first time this season. The first and only time these teams met this year took place in Ireland. Jachym Kondelik scored his first career goal in a 3-2 losing effort at the Northern Irish Connections Friendship Four Tournament in Northern Ireland. Huska turned away 27 shots, while BU’s Jake Oettinger stopped 39 of UConn’s 41 shots to prevail with the win. The Huskies closed the game with a 5-on-3 advantage, taking 16 shots at the junior netminder, but came away empty handed.
The Terriers (10-14-3, 8-7-2 Hockey East) have hit a rough stretch of games on their schedule against some premier teams. BU has lost its last five games, the longest such streak of the season. A shutout loss to No. 17 Arizona State, a pair of losses to No. 2 UMass, an overtime loss to No. 13 Northeastern and a 5-2 defeat by No. 18 Harvard have the Terriers itching for a win.
Joel Farabee is one of the country’s top freshman and he commands the BU offense. His 10 goals and 16 assists (26 points) have him ranked just ahead of UConn’s Kondelik (24 points) for the conference lead in scoring for rookies. Dante Fabbro brings versatility to the defense with his ability to score. The junior defenseman’s six goals and 17 assists (23 points) have him ranked among the best scorers in his position within the conference.
The Huskies’ offense will likely face Oettinger in the net once again. Oettinger’s .921 save percentage ranks 21st in the entire country and the rookie has let up 2.74 goals a game.
Game one of the home-and-home series is set for a 7 p.m. puck drop at Hartford’s XL Center. Saturday’s matchup also starts at 7 p.m. with the opening face-off coming from Agganis Arena in Boston, bringing an end to UConn’s season long five-game homestand.
UConn returns to the XL Center in two weeks when Providence comes to Hartford on Feb. 26.
Kevin Arnold is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.