By all means, this was a great weekend for the UConn men’s hockey team. They finished when they had the opportunities, their young guns were firing on all cylinders and they got valuable shifts from their upperclassmen.
UConn (11-12-4, 8-7-2 Hockey East) arrived back in Storrs Saturday having taken two key games against New Hampshire. The offense was in their bag all weekend, scoring 14 goals against the Wildcats.
“We were certainly really happy with the weekend,” head coach Mike Cavanaugh said. “We didn’t think we played very well last night as team, our emphasis was to come out here and play a strong game. I thought we got off to a good start, the first period was pretty even, they might have had a little bit of an edge in play, but the second period is where we won the game. We really dominated that from start to finish, one of our best periods of the year. I thought we kept them under pressure the entire time.”
It was mainly the offense that got them four points this weekend and catapulted them into a four-way tie for fourth place in Hockey East – with UMass Lowell, Maine and Providence. Let’s take a look at how that breaks down:
The Iskhakov-Firstov-Evans offensive line is thriving:
Ever since Cavanaugh put them together, this line has been a point-scoring machine. In just six games together, they have scored 11 goals and have contributed 14 assists. Comprised of all underclassmen, this offensive front has the highest point-to-game ratio of all of the lines put together by Cavanaugh, a combined 4.17 points per game between them. In the six games they’ve played together, the Huskies are 4-2.
“We’ve seen a lot of points in the last couple games [from them],” Cavanaugh said. “They really play off each other well, they feed off each other.”
They play a beautiful tiki-taka style, but for hockey, when next to each other, playing passes in-and-around defenders with ease on the break, which often lead to scores. All three are among the top-4 in points scored on the team, with Jachym Kondelik joining them as well.
Firstov has put on an incredible display this season, leading the team in goals, 11, while being tied for fourth in assists as well, with Iskhakov at 11. He is second on the team in plus-minus as well, with a plus-15.
Evans was spectacular in Friday’s game, especially, netting a late hat trick and picking up two first assists on the night. He then added an assist in Saturday’s game as well.
Iskhakov had his own fun this weekend too, picking up two goals and three assists in the offensive outbursts.
It’s clear that this line has great offensive potential, but their willingness to play defense was also evident as Cavanaugh mentioned post game Saturday.
“The biggest thing, they were committed to defense and created a lot of offense off of playing great defense,” Cavanaugh said. “Not cheating and looking for breakaways, they would get a turnover and get an odd-man rush. They’re skilled enough where they can finish it. I think they’re really playing a 200-foot game right now and that’s translating into points. When they start playing that way and seeing that the points come when you play that way, that’s really good.”
The captains are providing valuable leadership and solid play:
UConn is a young team, with just seven upperclassmen among their ranks. As a result, they must rely on just a few leaders, like Newpower and Ben Freeman. Newpower has played in all 27 games this season and provided a team-leading plus-18.
The defensive captain has been a force for an otherwise young backline. He picked up a goal and three assists this weekend, while being a combined plus-eight between the two games.
“I thought both of our captains were really strong, I thought Wyatt’s been good all year long,” Cavanaugh said. “He’s a big vocal voice, Ben’s more of a leader by example.”
The team finished when they got the opportunity to score:
UConn got a good amount of shots off in both games, but neither were overwhelming compared to their season averages. They came in averaging 31.4 shots per game, before taking 29 in Friday’s game and 37 in Saturday’s. Before the weekend they scored just 2.72 goals per game, now they are averaging three per game – a stark increase.
“We got scoring from everybody, all three lines. Jachym had two goals, [Payusov] had three goals, Ruslan’s line had a couple goals. So, we got scoring from all four lines. That’s a great recipe for success, when you have all four lines chipping in and it’s hard for the other team to just focus on one and shut one line down.”
Their presence in front of net made a real difference, giving them multiple rebound opportunities that led to scores for Kondelik and company.
Otherwise, goaltender Tomas Vomacka and the Huskies defense had a decent weekend, but still allowed eight goals in the series. Their offense was able to pick them up but allowing that many goals is dangerous territory in a competitive Hockey East. Especially for a sport played on ice, they played with fire this weekend.
Even so, this was an impressive weekend for them, which helps ease the burn of dropping both games of Connecticut Ice.
They are heading into a mini-break, with a week off until their next two games away in Maine on Feb. 15.