For the second time in as many weeks, UConn will face an in-state powerhouse at a neutral site. But let's look at how they got there.
After their brutal, overtime loss earlier this season to Merrimack (now 4-1-1), the Huskies took out their anger on mighty Quinnipiac, beating them 4-1. After losing a close one to No. 17 Vermont, they looked to come back in similar fashion this weekend in Newark, NJ in the two-game Liberty Hockey Invitational tourney. Coincidentally enough, their first game was a non-conference game against Hockey East foe Merrimack.
Early in the first period, the Huskies got their wish with a goal from Spencer Naas only six minutes in, his second of the season, bringing him into the positive in +/- with +1. The Huskies netted another on a downright ugly error by Merrimack where Kasperi Ojantakanen scored on essentially an open net for his first-ever UConn goal in the third.
While the narrative was set and seemingly being followed into the third period, penalties killed any sense of momentum the Huskies planned on having all night. Racking up six penalties in the second period alone and nine on the night, the Warriors of Merrimack were able to tie with a pair of power play goals that knotted the game through the end of regulation and overtime.
Rob Nichols once again was the hero of the match, with 38 saves and two shootout stops to allow the Huskies to advance to play against Yale today at 4 PM. UConn was outshot 40-22, mostly thanks to the abundance of penalties, but held a slight edge on the faceoffs, 34-32. Yale, much like UConn, advanced to the championship game via shootout against rival Princeton after a 2-2 tie. Much unlike UConn, however, Yale controlled possession and the shots on goal, only to be thwarted in regulation by Princeton’s Colton Phinney.
Fellow Nutmeg State residents Yale return seven seniors and eight juniors from their 2013 NCAA championship team. Friday was their first regular season game, with Sophomores John Hayden and Mike Doherty scoring the first Yale goals of the season. Alex Lyon had an impressive outing, with a .946 save percentage and 35 saves, including three shootout stops.
Again, for UConn, the offense will be a key factor. There has been no doubt in their improvement the last three weeks. The team played well against Quinnipiac and Vermont, and a 2-2 tie versus a Hockey East opponent, though technically a non-conference game, will do wonders for their morale. Just like against Quinnipiac, the in-state rivalry with Yale may add a layer of intensity for the Huskies, who are looking to round out their record with a few wins before heading into the depths of Hockey East play against strong competition. If UConn can score early, just like they did against Merrimack and Quinnipiac, Nichols and the defense could be able to hold strong just enough to give UConn the edge.
The game is at 4pm, you can listen live on www.WHUS.org/live