As we inch closer and closer to the start of the spring semester, the UConn men’s hockey team reopens conference play when they face Merrimack on the road Saturday night. The 6-15-1 Huskies sit tenth with a 3-9-0 Hockey East record while the Warriors (7-12-1) hold a ninth place 2-9-1 conference record.
Saturday night will mark the tenth meeting between the two programs since UConn joined the Hockey East in 2014-15. Merrimack holds a 3-1-5 all-time advantage over UConn, including a sweep of last year’s season series. The Warriors escaped the XL Center with a 3-2 overtime victory, needing only 13 seconds of extra play to sink the Huskies. After Sami Tavernier’s overtime game-winner on their home ice, the Huskies were shutout 3-0 on the road in game two of the series. Only one shot attempt in the first period and 35 saves by Adam Huska proved not enough against three third-period goals from the Warriors.
Winners of two of their last three games, the Huskies are looking to change their fortune against the Warriors. Previously losers of seven straight, UConn closed out 2018 with a victory over No. 15 Yale before a 6-3 over St. Lawrence at the Ice Vegas Invitational last weekend. Alexander Payusov notched his team-best 11th goal in the win while freshman Kale Howarth made the Ice Vegas All-Tournament team.
The freshman class continues to be a topic of discussion for this particular UConn hockey team. Highly touted entering the season, the class of 12 freshman made the Huskies one of the youngest teams in the entire country. Although they have had their share of growing pains, the class as a whole leads the team points with 49 (14g/35a) on the season. Jáchym Kondelik tallied a goal and an assist in his return from representing the Czech Republic in the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship. The freshman is second in the conference and seventh nationally in scoring for NCAA rookies. Freshman Kale Howarth’s goal, assist and 29 face off wins earned him a spot on the all-tournament team in Las Vegas last weekend.
“They’re supremely talented. I think there’s a lot of talent in that class,” head coach Mike Cavanaugh said on his freshman class earlier in the season.
Like UConn, Merrimack recently broke a losing streak of their own before some recent success. Winners of two straight entering Saturday night, the Warriors saw their losing skid reach seven games before a 1-0 home shutout over Northeastern and a 4-2 road win over Michigan on Tuesday.
Tyler Irvine leads the way offensively for the Warriors. The junior has scored 14 points on five goals and nine assists on the season. Jonathan Kovacevic’s eight power play points (3g/5a) is not only the beat on Merrimack but ranks the junior defenseman seventh in Hockey Easy total scoring with 11 points (4g/7a).
The majority of goaltending duties have fallen on the shoulders of senior Craig Pantano. Pantano is credited with five of Merrimack’s seven wins, four of-which have come via the shutout. Expect the Huskies to attack early and often as Pantano carries a 3.26 goals against average and a .893 save percentage into Saturday’s contest.
Puck drop is set for 7 p.m. Saturday night at Lawler Rink in North Andover, Massachusetts.
Kevin Arnold is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.