Last week, the UConn men’s hockey team participated in the first ever Connecticut Ice Festival. Despite putting together back-to-back strong performances, they came back to Storrs winless, a trend that has plagued the team for much of the year. The schedule doesn’t get any easier for the Huskies this weekend, though, as they prepare to face off against the University of New Hampshire Wildcats in a home-and-away series beginning Friday.
UConn (9-12-4, 6-7-2 Hockey East) has been playing excellent hockey, limiting last weekend’s opponents to just 49 shots combined while generating plenty of chances for themselves. The issue is that’s all they end up being; chances. The Huskies put 72 shots on goal over the weekend, but only four found their way into the back of the net. On the season UConn has scored just 68 goals on 785 shots, while their opponents have scored on 82 of 766 shots. These are ratios that need to be fixed if they want to start turning those close losses into big wins. Luckily, head coach Mike Cavanaugh says they have some guys who can do just that.
“He’s [Carter Turnbull] been terrific all year long and he’s been consistent,” Cavanaugh said. “Last year he played injured a little bit and this year he’s fully healthy and you’re seeing the type of player he can be.”
With his two goals last weekend, Turnbull continued his surprise sophomore campaign, and is now tied with freshman Vladislav Firstov for the team-lead in goals with nine. He has brought an energy and touch around the net which UConn has been missing most of the season and guarantees a strong final third stretch. Fellow underclassmen Ruslan Ishkakov and Firstov had stellar offensive seasons of their own, leading the team with 16 points each.
Defensively, the Huskies have been strong as well, with Wyatt Newpower and Adam Karashik making UConn a tougher egg to crack every game. If the team can simply start finishing on more of their offensive opportunities, they can compete with the best.
For now, however, that is exactly what UNH has been doing. The Wildcats (13-9-2, 7-6-1 Hockey East) are red hot heading into this matchup, having won five of their last seven games, including three against ranked opponents in UMass, Providence and Northeastern.
UNH is led by a duo of Charlie Kelleher and Angus Crookshank on the offensive side. Kelleher has racked up 16 assists thus far, good enough for No. 10 in the conference, while Crookshank leads the team with 12 goals. As a team, however, the Bobcats sit below UConn in the conference rankings in goals per game, and both schools sit in the bottom half of the conference in goals allowed per game.
The key for this one is going to be the power play. UNH ranks No. 6 in the Hockey East in power play conversion percentage at 20.2%, while UConn has struggled to finish all season, sitting at No. 9 at a 14.5% conversion rate. Defensively, the Bobcats and Huskies rank and in the bottom two positions for penalty kill percentage, opening the door for either team to succeed where they have struggled all season.
This matchup is sure to be a tightly contested one, as both teams have had three of their last four games decided by one goal. For UConn it would be a couple big wins with the season winding down, but momentum clearly sides with the Wildcats heading into this weekend.
The first meeting between the teams is at UNH, with puck set to drop at 7 p.m. before they finish off the series at the XL Center Saturday with a 4:05 p.m. puck drop. Saturday’s game can also be listened to on the radio at ESPN 97.9.