Men’s Hockey: Ice Bus tries to stay hot against Merrimack 

UConn faces Holy Cross on Oct. 14, 2023 at the Toscano Family Ice Forum. Huskies lost 0-2 after a hard-fought game. Photo by Connor Sharp/The Daily Campus

After a five-score effort that propelled them to a much-needed victory against Vermont last Saturday, the UConn men’s ice hockey team will look to continue their strong play when they take on Merrimack College for two games this weekend. 

The Huskies spent last weekend in Burlington, Vermont for two games against UVM. After losing the first match on Friday, UConn responded with a monster offensive showing in the third period of Saturday’s contest. The Ice Bus found themselves down 2-0 before a Samu Salminen goal in the second period cut the deficit in half. In the fifth minute of the third, Tristan Fraser managed a score to tie the contest at two goals apiece and initiated what amounted to a dominant minute of action by Connecticut’s offense. Not 30 seconds later, Matthew Wood slammed home a close shot off of a rebound to give the Huskies a 3-2 lead. A Vermont penalty on the goal put the Huskies on a power play where Wood again was able to slice through defenders and knock in his second goal within another 12 seconds. The Ice Bus scored three goals in the fifth minute of the third period alone. For good measure, Jake Percival scored an empty net goal with just over one minute remaining in regulation to secure the 5-2 win for the away team. 

“I think that we need to continue to focus on playing well, creating scoring opportunities and maybe getting the puck to the net more,” UConn head coach Mike Cavanaugh said ahead of this weekend’s tilt versus Merrimack. “When you saw Fraser’s goal and both of Woods’ goals, they both had gotten to the net. Those are the things that we really needed to focus on.” 

Saturday’s showing brought the Huskies’ overall record on the campaign to 4-5-1, including 2-2-0 when facing Hockey East opponents. With five points in conference play, Connecticut is tied with Boston University and Vermont for fifth place in the conference. In the early going, the Ice Bus has had to grind through eight away games of their 10 games played overall; Cavanaugh noted that the team will embrace their return home to the Toscano Family Ice Forum in Storrs, Connecticut. 

Merrimack enters the weekend series having lost each of their previous two contests to No. 13 Maine, though not due to a lack of effort: The Warriors lost the both contests by one goal, 2-1 and 5-4, respectively. In the 5-4 loss, Merrimack showed tremendous fight after finding themselves down 3-0 late in the second period. Mac Welsher managed the Warriors’ first goal with five minutes remaining in the period, though two more scores by Maine gave the team a 5-1 lead and forced Merrimack to make a change at goalie. In the third period, two goals by Alex Jefferies and one by Michael Citara made the game 5-4, though the Warriors were unable to sink the equalizing score. Still, the effort was encouraging considering Merrimack had found themselves down big with plenty of time remaining in the match. 

Though they aren’t ranked, some members of the United States Hockey Organization have voted for Merrimack as a team that should crack the top-20 in the nation. Based on votes, Merrimack is currently the No. 25 college hockey program according to the NCAA website. The Warriors are currently 3-4 overall including 1-2 versus Hockey East opponents. Their three points in conference play place them in a tie for ninth place in the Hockey East alongside Massachusetts. 

Freshman Jake Richard has fit right into his new home in Storrs, settling in as one of coach Cavanaugh’s biggest weapons on offense. A native of Jacksonville, Florida, Richard is tied for second in Connecticut in plus/minus with a plus-4. He’s also second on the team in points with seven, which consists of two goals and five assists on the season. After scoring a point in three straight games, Richard has gone scoreless over his previous three games. A rebound performance this weekend would do wonders for UConn’s odds against the Warriors. 

Welsher has been among the top performers for Merrimack this season. He’s tied for second on the team with six points, made up of two goals and four assists. His plus-6 plus/minus is tops for the Warriors. A graduate student from Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan, Welsher has scored a point in five of Merrimack’s seven games this year. Welsher’s hot start puts him on pace to set new career-highs across the board: he scored 12 points in 33 games last season and already has six through just his team’s first seven contests. 

The Huskies are 9-11-5 overall when facing Merrimack in the past. The Warriors annihilated Connecticut in their most recent contest last December, winning by a score of 7-3.  Before that, the Ice Bus had won each of the prior five games between the two programs. 

The two teams will meet for the first of two games on Friday at 7 p.m. from the Toscano Family Ice Forum in Storrs. Game two will come on Saturday from the Volpe Athletic Complex in North Andover, Massachusetts, also at 7 p.m. Fans at home can catch each game live on ESPN+. 

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