Tonight marks the last time Miles Gendron, Max Kalter and Karl El-Mir suit up as members of the UConn men’s hockey team. The No. 2 ranked UMass Minutemen will make the trek to Hartford for the 2018-19 season finale as UConn honors its departing seniors.
“I think that’s a credit to the leadership we have in that room,” head coach Mike Cavanaugh said about the senior class. “Those three guys: Max Kalter…Miles and Karl, they’ve really been the heart and soul of our program. They’ve bled blue the entire time they’ve been here. They haven't let these younger guys get discouraged with where we are in the standings.”
UConn has not had the season it had hoped. With some experienced veterans and a 12-man freshman class, the Huskies (11-20-2, 6-15-2 Hockey East) will finish the season under .500 and out of postseason contention after new Hockey East rules permit only the top eight teams to compete in the conference tournament.
UMass (26-7-0, 18-5 Hockey East) has not helped the Huskies’ cause this season or in seasons prior. Since joining the Hockey East, UMass holds a 6-4-1 advantage over UConn, including two wins this season. In November, the Huskies took a 7-4 loss to UMass on the road. The Huskies took a 2-1 lead heading into the second period, and later tied it at three, before Mitchell Chaffee put UMass ahead for good just under six minutes into the third.
The Huskies were shut out in game two of the season series just two weeks ago. UMass scored a goal in each period with two coming on the power play. UMass goaltender Matt Murray made 21 saves in what was his first shutout of the year. Tomas Vomacka got the start for the Huskies, making a career-high 33 saves in the loss.
Jonny Evans and Ruslan Iskhakov are playing their best hockey in their short careers as of late. Matched with Max Kalter, the trio has scored 26 points (7g/19a) in their last seven games together, the second highest total by a UConn line this season. Evans scored twice in the Huskies’ 5-1 win over UVM last week, while Iskhakov finished with three assists.
“Jonny gives us so much depth because of his skill and the way he and Ruslan work together, the chemistry they’ve found with Max in the middle just being that glue guy,” Gendron said following the win. “It sucks we didn’t have him the whole year, but you gotta play the cards you’re dealt.”
The older guys have been doing their part too. El-Mir’s career year leads the wave of Husky 20-point scorers, as he’s found the back of the net 13 times and assisted on 14 scores for 27 points this year. Junior Alexander Payusov’s 16 goals leads the team, including two game winning scores in overtime.
For the Minutemen, well they only have the top four scorers in the Hockey East. Sophomores Cale Maker (40), Mitchell Chaffee (38) and John Leonard (34) along with senior Jacob Pritchard (37) led UMass to clinching the Hockey East regular season championship. The previously mentioned Matt Murray has been nothing short of a brick wall in the net this season, stopping .924 percent of pucks coming his way. The sophomore netminder also holds an .800 winning percentage and a 1.99 goals per game average.
The UMass powerplay propelled them into first in league scoring. Their 3.79 goals scored per game is the best in Hockey East, and so is their .291 power play conversion percentage.
Puck drop is set for 7:05 p.m. tonight at the XL Center. The game will also be broadcast on CW20 and 97.9 ESPN Hartford.
Kevin Arnold is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.