It’s Huskies versus Huskies this weekend as UConn and Northeastern will play a home-and-home series, with both teams fighting to climb in Hockey East and national rankings.
“We’re still battling for a league title here and playing Northeastern is going to be a very formidable opponent,” head coach Mike Cavanaugh said on Thursday ahead of the weekend.
UConn is currently No. 3 in Hockey East and tied for No. 19 nationally. Northeastern sits at No. 5 in Hockey East but is No. 15 in the nation.
“At this point in the season in February, late February, every game matters,” captain Jachym Kondelik emphasized.
UConn is coming hot off of a win over UMass last Saturday after dropping the first game of the series to the Minutemen. UConn isn’t looking for a split against the Huskies, their goal is to be the top dogs on Friday night and Saturday afternoon.
“We took too many unnecessary penalties last week, and that’s an area we have to clean up because you’re really flirting with disaster if you’re going to give [up] power plays [to teams] like Northeastern, UMass,” Cavanaugh said. “They’re one of the best teams in our league off the rush. They’re fantastic at making plays.”
Northeastern is coming off of a split weekend in Hockey East play as well. They dropped the first game, 1-4, to the Boston College Eagles before beating them on the Eagles’ home ice 4-1 the next day.
UConn was in an eerily similar position last week after UMass came to the XL Center and won 2-1 on Friday, but the Huskies beat the Minutemen 4-2 when they traveled to Amherst, Mass. on Saturday.
“When your team’s called the Ice Bus, you better be good on the road I guess, right?” Cavanaugh joked.
UConn is 6-5-0 at home this season, with a 10-6-0 record when playing away.
“It’s a tribute to our experience,” the coach said. “We have a lot of guys who have played in those buildings before, so it’s not foreign to them. They’re comfortable with the road atmosphere, the opposing fans and everything that comes with that. On top of it, you have to just be consistent in your play.”
The UConn Huskies will look to their captain, Kondelik, for his consistent leadership and talent to propel the team for these next two games as they prepare for the postseason.
“He drives the Ice Bus an awful lot,” Cavanaugh said on Kondelik.
Cavanaugh attributed the senior forward for a lot of stability within the program, which contributes to its growth and the overall success of the team throughout his four seasons in Storrs.
“He’s the epitome of what we want as a player,” Cavanaugh said. “We don’t want players who are like this stock market, up and down … We want guys that are very consistent in their play, and that’s what he’s been.”
Kondelik says that the team isn’t treating this next pair of games any differently, but there’s a strong, positive energy on the ice that has everyone ready to play.
“It’s fun to be around the rink right now, it’s great, and we’re just going to go into the series like we always do,” Kondelik said.
The captain has a lot of faith in the Ice Bus not only for this weekend, but every single game that the Huskies will play throughout the send of the season and into the playoffs
“It’s really special that we get to play for first place,” Kondelik expressed. “What I pictured is winning a trophy here … and I really believe we have the team to do it this year.”
Overall, both Cavanaugh and Kondelik give credit to the depth of the program for the team being in the position that they currently are. They attributed team chemistry, technique and physicality to their success.
“To be a good hockey team you’ve got to be good in goal, you’ve got to have good defenseman and you’ve got to be good up front; those are the most complete teams. Anybody that’s relying on a goaltender or just relying on their forwards to score or relying on their defense to shut down another team…you just become too one-dimensional,” Cavanaugh said. “I think one of the things that we have as a club is that we’re pretty strong in all three of those areas.”
UConn will look to be all of this and more, as Kondelik believes that they can give “more than 100%” in the coming games.
The team is also hoping for 100% out of UConn Nation at the XL Center especially on Saturday. Kondelik referenced how the success of both the men’s and women’s basketball teams as well as the women’s hockey team, in addition to his own team, is fueling the Ice Bus even more.
“With UConn having four teams right now that are ranked, I think that’s huge for the school, huge for the students,” the captain said. “You can feel the energy around campus, around the team, I think it’s just great.”
Bring that energy to the Matthews Arena in Boston at 7 p.m. on Friday when the Northeastern Huskies host the UConn Huskies, and again on Saturday afternoon as the Ice Bus returns to the XL Center to host Northeastern at 3:05 p.m. Friday’s game will be broadcasted on NESNplus and Saturday’s matchup can be streamed via SportsLive.