In the first of the final three remaining games in the 2018-19 season, the UConn Huskies welcome the No. 8 Providence Friars to the XL Center Tuesday night.
Although the Huskies are tied for ninth in the Hockey East with Vermont at 12 points apiece—and are mathematically eliminated from postseason contention—this is still a big game. The Friars, a Hockey East powerhouse, are No. 8 in all of division I hockey and hold a 7-1-1 advantage over UConn since the Huskies joined the Hockey East in 2014-15.
The 7-2 thrashing by Providence (19-9-5, 12-7-2 Hockey East), even though it came back on October 19, is not something easily forgotten. The Huskies trailed just one at the end of the first period, but the floodgates opened up in the second. Even with a UConn goal on a power play, the Friars went 3-of-4 on the man advantage, opening up a 4-1 lead. Alexander Payusov scored the second and final UConn goal in the third, also on the power play, but it was not enough. PC scored three straight times to close out the game. All seven goals were scored by a different PC skater.
The road since for UConn can only be described as streaky. A seven-game losing streak, followed by a six-game winless streak and a quick three-game winning streak have the Huskies at 10-19-2 overall with a 5-14-2 conference record.
A very young team overall, the Huskies are lead offensively by a pair of veterans. Senior Karl El-Mir is having a career year in Storrs. A team-leading 27 points on 13 goals and 14 assists are all career highs for the forward out of Quebec. The aforementioned Payusov is not far behind his senior line-mate. “Sasha,” as his teammates call him, leads the team with 15 goals scored and is tied for second in the Hockey East for goals scored.
The large and highly-touted freshman class has picked up their play of late. While Jachym Kondelik has played well all year and ranks among the top freshmen in the country in points and assists, some of his classmates have joined in. Ruslan Iskhakov did not score at all in 10-straight games. Since then, the Moscow native has three goals and five assists in his last six games. Goaltender Tomas Vomacka commandeered the starting job from Adam Huska, boasting a 3-2-0 record, 1.6 goals allowed average and a .946 save percentage.
Playing for home ice in the Hockey East quarterfinals, Providence enters the Tuesday night matchup fresh off a big home win over No. 2 UMass. Junior Josh Wilkins has done it all offensively for the Friars, scoring 30 points on 10 goals and 20 assists. Junior Kasper Bjorkqvist and senior Scott Conway are tied for seventh in league scoring with 13 goals each.
In net, the Friars have one of the top puck stoppers in the nation. Hayden Hawkey, a senior, leads the country and conference with seven shutouts while allowing a Hockey East best 1.81 goals per contest. His .922 save percentage is good enough for sixth in the conference while the Friars penalty kill (.871 penalty kill percentage) leads the league.
Kevin Arnold is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.