MHOC Preview: UConn to face No. 15 UMass Lowell

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UConn men’s hockey continues on the ice this week with a couple more games before Christmas break. Monday, the Huskies face another team from Massachusetts: UMass Lowell, who are currently ranked No. 15 across the nation. UConn will host the River Hawks at the Freitas Ice Rink at 5 p.m. and will be live streamed on SportsLive.

The visitors haven’t really had a good start to the season. Having games postponed at the beginning and their most recent over the weekend, Lowell (0-1) have only managed to play one game against Providence, where they lost 4-2. In this game, sophomore forward Carl Berglund was part of the two goals the River Hawks scored, which were by sophomore forward Matt Brown and junior forward Reid Stefanson. On top of that, their goaltender Logan Neaton was able to make 25 saves while in the net. So far for Neaton’s collegiate career, he’s managed to have a .893 save percentage in the four games he’s played.

As for UConn (1-2-1), they will enter the match fresh off a 3-1 comeback victory against No. 2 Boston College on Dec. 12 after falling 4-3 in OT to the Eagles the day before. In the Saturday game, junior forwards Jonny Evans and Marc Gatcomb, as well as freshman forward Nick Capone, slotted in three goals against BC within the second period.

So far for the Huskies, Jonny Evans leads the team with a goal and three assists, totaling up to four points this season. As for goals, Gatcomb and junior forward Kale Howarth are neck and neck with two each. Goaltender Tomas Vomacka has also been busy on the ice, having 134 saves so far this season while only 12 pucks managed to find the back of the net. 

“I think he’s continuing to improve,” head coach Mike Cavanaugh said, referring to Gatcomb. “When he’s playing really well, he’s a hard, powerful forward for us with skill…I thought he played extremely well, especially on Saturday. We’re gonna need him because he’s one of our most well-conditioned athletes, and it show[ed] on Saturday when games get late, he still has a lot left in the tank.”

One setback the Huskies will face in their lineup will be the absence of two sophomores: forward Vladislav Firstov and defenseman Yan Kuznetsov, as they’ve been called up to play for Team Russia at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championships from Dec. 25 to Jan. 5. A remarkable achievement for the pair, as they’ve become the first Russian-born NCAA student athletes to appear in the Russian national team.

“I think it’s fantastic,” Cavanaugh said. “I give a lot of credit to obviously Yan and Vlad, the type of players they are, but I also give a lot of credit to Igor Larionov. I don’t think they were popular picks, so to speak, but Igor thought that they were certainly worthy of making the team and helping them win a gold medal.”

After the game against UMass Lowell, the Huskies will travel to Amherst on Wednesday for a game against the No. 7 ranked UMass Minutemen. UConn opened the season with a loss and a shootout win against UMass. That game starts at 3:30 p.m. and will be broadcast on NESN.

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