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UConn Hockey Gameday Preview: Huskies kick off home-and-home series with Maine

The Huskies will be on the road tonight visiting the University of Maine, puck drops at 7:30. The Black Bears will return the favor on Sunday at 2:05 at the XL Center.

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After a disappointing, but encouraging, loss at No. 19 Boston College on Saturday, UConn  is back in action tonight against the Maine Black Bears. Maine used to be what some people might call a powerhouse – with multiple national championships to their name (1993, 1999) and 11 trips to the Frozen Four since 1988, most recently in 2007. Though they have since fallen on lean times.

The program was built by the late Shawn Walsh, who took over the program in 1984 and stayed at the helm until 2001, when he passed away after a year-long battle with cancer. Walsh actually had the chance to hand-pick his successor, Ted Whitehead, who got off to a good start but struggled in the late-aughts after two key assistants left the program. He was fired after an 11-19-8 campaign in 2013.

Whitehead was replaced by Yale associate head coach Red Gendron. Before Yale, Gendron was an assistant at UMass and before that was coaching in the AHL. In his first season Maine finished a respectable 16-15-4, finishing sixth in Hockey East with a 9-8-3 conference record.

Going into tonight, Maine is tied with UConn for eighth place in Hockey East. With 10 games left in the season this will be a hotly contested battle to finish in that top eight and play host in the first round of the Hockey East tournament. The Black Bears are coming off a weekend sweep of their "Border War" rival New Hampshire, winning two games by a combined score of 10-4. That weekend made headlines in certain corners of the interwebs because of some inappropriate signage from the Maine crowd. I won't link it but there's a website called Google that can help you find it.

Maine's second win of their weekend series came on the heels of a 40-save shutout performance from goaltender Matt Morris. Morris, a sophomore, shares net-minding duties with freshman Sean Romeo. I heard they also share entrees at restaurants. Their leading point-scorers on the season are junior forward Devin Shore (23PT/8G/15A) and sophomore forward Cam Brown (22P/6G/16A), who hails from Natick, Massachusetts.

The Huskies young squad will, of course, be backstopped by the virtually impenetrable wall of Rob Nichols – who is coming off a 37-save performance in the 3-2 loss to Boston College. Once again, they should be fresh going into this game on six days rest. Freshman defenseman Johnny Austin will be out with a broken finger. Corey Ronan (shoulder), Jesse Schwartz (shoulder) and Jeff Wight (concussion) all missed the game against BC, but are now healthy. Ronan and Schwartz are both expected to play and no decision yet for Wight.

UConn has four players with 11 points or more on the season, including freshman Kasperi Ojantakenen who has 11 points (2G, 9A) in four fewer games than each the team's top three point-scorers Trevor Gerling (Sr. 12P/7G/5A), Spencer Naas (Fr. 13P/10G/3A) and Shawn Pauly (Jr. 15P/3G/12A). I have it on pretty good authority that you need to score more goals than the other team in order to win. Look for these guys to be involved if the Huskies are successful tonight.

Last time these two teams met, a spunky UConn squad pulled off a tie against a seventh-ranked Maine team to open the 2010-11 season. Sophomore Garret Bartus made 40 saves and classmate Sean Ambrosie scored the game-tying goal late in the third period. Before that, Maine and UConn met twice in the late-70s with the Black Bears dominating both games.

Mike Cavanaugh's club has struggled in road games so far this season, carrying a 2-6-3 record in true road games going into this one. Hopefully with some rest and the chance to solidify their position in the Hockey East standings, UConn can grab a much-needed win tonight.