The original opening series for both teams is finally going to happen. After having their holiday break extended when the Northeastern Huskies took on the Maine Black Bears instead, the UConn Huskies return to action against the University of Vermont Catamounts.
UConn (3-3-1, 11 points) is riding a three-game winning streak after upsetting the Boston University Terriers and shutting out the Merrimack Warriors twice over the span of two weekends.
The Catamounts (3-1-0, 9 points) enter this contest after taking care of business against the Holy Cross Crusaders, winning both games last weekend to kick off the new year. Vermont looks to extend their winning streak this weekend.
Both teams are no strangers to changes in a period where sports must be flexible to massive changes. The Huskies, in addition to their postponed series against Northeastern, have had impromptu matchups against Providence and games against Maine postponed. The Catamounts, on the other hand, went on pause to begin the Women’s Hockey season, which lasted until Dec. 18, and have played only four games this year.
Vermont has gotten off to their hot start thanks to the likes of junior defenseman Maude Poulin-Labelle, who has five points on five assists, and forwards Natalie Mlynkova (freshman) and Lily Humphrey (sophomore) who both have four points each. Poulin-Labelle continues to improve after her Hockey East All-Star selection last year as she leads the team in shots with 16 and plus-minus with a plus seven rating.
The Catamounts also bring in Women’s Player of the Week in Val Caldwell, who was recognized for her three-point performance in the season opener against New Hampshire. One other significant skater to look out for is junior forward Corinne McCool, who has two goals and an assist for a total of three points this season. Vermont has had the most players score a goal in the conference with 12 different players doing so.
Leading the way for the Huskies, as always, is captain Natalie Snodgrass, who has two goals and three assists for a total of five points. Also taking charge are freshman Jada Habisch, junior Viki Harkness and senior goal leader Savannah Bouzide, both of whom have seven points each. Habisch’s hat trick in the first game against Merrimack was the first by a UConn freshman since 2005 and led to her earning Rookie of the Week honors. If the Huskies want to get ahead in both games, they will need their stars to step up and score.
The Huskies will also look to rely on senior Morgan Wabick to take charge on a potential second line. Despite having four points, Wabick is still looking for her first goal of the season.
One of the reasons this weekend series could be defensive comes down to who is behind the crease. Both teams have experienced goaltenders and freshmen looking to make their mark in their first collegiate season.
Like Boston College, Vermont has three options in the crease. The first is sophomore Natalie Ferenc, who has played two games and has a record of 1-1 while saving 40 out of 44 shots. Then there is junior Blanka Skodova, who surrendered just one goal on 16 shots in her first and only appearance of the season.
Finally, there is freshman and defending Defensive Player of the Week Jessie McPherson. In her first ever start, she shutout Holy Cross on 17 tries. The Catamounts are likely going to, again like Boston College, use two out of their three available goalies as each goalie has at least one win this season.
The Huskies, on the other side of the ice, have their typical 1-2 punch that performed well. First, there is junior Samantha Carpentier-Yelle, who has surrendered 11 goals on 72 shots so far after three starts. Carpentier-Yelle, who is 1-2 this year, brings experience to the table and will look to improve her numbers for the season this weekend. Then there is freshman Tia Chan, who has had a breakout season in her rookie campaign so far. Chan is 2-1-1 as a starter and has surrendered just five goals on 103 shots, which includes limiting Providence to a single goal and shutting out Merrimack. Whatever game Carpentier-Yelle starts, Chan will start the other one.
The power play for both teams is even as UConn has converted just four out of 25 power play opportunities while Vermont has scored three times on 19 opportunities. The penalty kill is also something to look out for, as Vermont has yet to concede an opposing power play goal, one of six teams in the nation to do so, while UConn has given up three goals on 19 penalty kills.
Team offense is also going to be important for either side, as the Huskies have scored 20 goals on 243 tries while the Catamounts have placed 14 pucks in the net on 142 tries. Team defense though appears to favor Vermont as they have surrendered just 5 goals on 77 tries while UConn has given up 16 on 191 shots.
Because Vermont has only played four games this season, they have the advantage in most records per game. The Catamounts are scoring 3.5 goals per game while surrendering only 1.25 goals a game, which is far different from UConn’s 2.9 goals per game while giving up 2.3 goals per game. One even playing field in the game averages though is shots per game, with Vermont taking 35.5 a game and letting the opponent shoot the puck 19.2 times a game. UConn is taking 34.7 shots per game while allowing 27.3 shots against per game.
This game also has major significance on the Hockey East standings as UConn is currently in fourth place behind Providence (19 points), Boston College (15 points), and Maine (12 points). Vermont is not far behind as they are tied for fifth with Northeastern, Holy Cross and New Hampshire, all of whom have nine points.
In terms of injuries, there are none to report, but anything can change within a day and healthy scratches might be posted before faceoff. UConn will look to take a 30-11-6 series lead on the Catamounts with two wins this weekend.
Because of protocols within the University of Vermont, both games will take place at the Freitas Ice Forum. Friday’s contest starts at 6 p.m. while Saturday’s showdown begins at 3 p.m. Both games will be available on NESN+ and live streamed via CBS powered by SportsLive.