Men’s Hockey: Huskies face toughest task of the year against No. 8 UMass Amherst

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UConn defeats BU in overtime Friday night in the XL Center. Senior Alexander Payusov scored the winning goal 19 seconds into sudden death OT. Goalkeeper Tomas Vomacka had a total of 23 saves, which helped UConn hold the Terriers scoreless during first period.  Photo by Kevin Lindstrom/The Daily Campus

UConn defeats BU in overtime Friday night in the XL Center. Senior Alexander Payusov scored the winning goal 19 seconds into sudden death OT. Goalkeeper Tomas Vomacka had a total of 23 saves, which helped UConn hold the Terriers scoreless during first period. Photo by Kevin Lindstrom/The Daily Campus

Last week, the UConn men’s hockey team took on a top-20 opponent in Boston University. They showed resilience, drive and commitment en route to two big wins, and have now moved to the No. 4 spot in the Hockey East Conference. But even with just three games remaining, nothing is guaranteed for the Huskies, and their path to the playoffs does not get any easier from here.  


UConn defeats BU in overtime Friday night in the XL Center. Senior Alexander Payusov scored the winning goal 19 seconds into sudden death OT. Goalkeeper Tomas Vomacka had a total of 23 saves, which helped UConn hold the Terriers scoreless during first period.  Photo by Kevin Lindstrom/The Daily Campus

UConn defeats BU in overtime Friday night in the XL Center. Senior Alexander Payusov scored the winning goal 19 seconds into sudden death OT. Goalkeeper Tomas Vomacka had a total of 23 saves, which helped UConn hold the Terriers scoreless during first period. Photo by Kevin Lindstrom/The Daily Campus

This weekend, UConn (14-13-4, 11-8-2 Hockey East) is set to face off against No. 8 UMass Amherst in a home-and-away series that will have major implications for the upcoming Hockey East playoffs. This will be the first meeting between the teams this season, and it could not come at a bigger time for either. 

The Huskies are one of the hottest teams in college hockey at the moment, having won seven of their last eight games against conference foes, including big wins against No. 13 Maine, No. 15 Northeastern and the aforementioned BU Terriers. And while last weekend in particular it was the seniors who stepped up big, it has been a complete team effort for UConn during this stretch, with goals coming from 12 different players, leading to an average of over four goals a game. 


UConn defeats BU in overtime Friday night in the XL Center. Senior Alexander Payusov scored the winning goal 19 seconds into sudden death OT. Goalkeeper Tomas Vomacka had a total of 23 saves, which helped UConn hold the Terriers scoreless during first period.  Photo by Kevin Lindstrom/The Daily Campus

UConn defeats BU in overtime Friday night in the XL Center. Senior Alexander Payusov scored the winning goal 19 seconds into sudden death OT. Goalkeeper Tomas Vomacka had a total of 23 saves, which helped UConn hold the Terriers scoreless during first period. Photo by Kevin Lindstrom/The Daily Campus

Leading the pack for the Huskies has been forward Ben Freeman. Over his last four games he has racked up three goals along with an impressive seven assists to move up to a team-leading 19 on the season, and his performance last week against BU — two goals and five helpers — was good enough to earn him the No. 2 spot in the NCAA’s Stars of the Week. His play on the ice has made it easy for the other guys to start putting up some ridiculous numbers of their own, including Sasha Payusov, Carter Turnbull and Vladislav Firstov, who have all eclipsed 10 goals on the season. But offense is not the only thing that wins hockey games. 

UConn’s defense, spearheaded by the likes of Wyatt Newpower and Adam Karashik have done their best impression of a brick wall, allowing just over two goals per game over that same span against some of the top offenses in the conference. They’ve blocked countless shots and limited opponent’s chances incredibly well, but even for those few that get by their defense, keeper Tomas Vomacka has looked great as well, making some key saves left and right to keep the Huskies close. It seems the Huskies can do no wrong as of late, and they will need to keep it that way facing off against the Minutemen this weekend. 


UConn defeats BU in overtime Friday night in the XL Center. Senior Alexander Payusov scored the winning goal 19 seconds into sudden death OT. Goalkeeper Tomas Vomacka had a total of 23 saves, which helped UConn hold the Terriers scoreless during first period.  Photo by Kevin Lindstrom/The Daily Campus

UConn defeats BU in overtime Friday night in the XL Center. Senior Alexander Payusov scored the winning goal 19 seconds into sudden death OT. Goalkeeper Tomas Vomacka had a total of 23 saves, which helped UConn hold the Terriers scoreless during first period. Photo by Kevin Lindstrom/The Daily Campus

UMass (19-10-2, 12-7-2 Hockey East) meanwhile, is on a similar stretch as UConn, winning three of their last four and currently sitting at No. 2 in the conference standings. The Minutemen are No. 2 in the conference in goals, scoring 3.23 per game while ranking No. 1 in goals allowed, letting in under two per game. 

UMass is led by a duo of John Leonard and Mitchell Chaffee on offense. Leonard leads all of college hockey in goals with 24 on the season, while Chaffee has logged an impressive 16 goals and 13 assists in his junior year. They will be the players to keep an eye on if the Huskies hope to stay close in these games. As a team, the Minutemen have the second lowest power player conversion percentage at just over 11% but boast the third best penalty kill percentage — something UConn already struggles to convert on — at 85%. Both teams are known for their strong finishes to games thus far in the year, and that trend will no doubt continue into this one, making each final period all the more exciting. 

Puck drop is set for 7:05 p.m. Friday at the XL Center before the final match of the series takes place Saturday night in Amherst. Friday night’s game will also be UConn’s senior night, honoring the Huskies’ five graduating seniors on the team, and has a “white-out” theme. With the two teams separated by just two points in the conference standings, you won’t want to miss these games. 


 Conner Gilson is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at conner.gilson@uconn.edu. He tweets @connergilson03.

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