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UConn Men's Hockey Gameday Preview: Huskies host New Hampshire in third-to-last game of the season

The Huskies are jockeying with Maine for eighth place in Hockey East and a chance to host the first round of the conference tournament. They begin a weekend home-and-home series with New Hampshire tonight.

Stephen Slade

Site: XL Center in Hartford, CT

Radio: WHUS 91.7 FM, streamed online at www.whus.org/live/

Video: Collegesportslive.com (subscription required)

Live Stats: UConnHuskies.com

Previous Meeting: 2003 - No. 2 UNH over UConn at home, 3-1

Statement from Assistant Coach Joe Pereira:

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As we enter the final stretch of the regular season, UConn Men's Hockey finds itself in a remarkable position considering its preseason expectations. (From the Hockey East official website):

Picked by most to finish last in the conference, the Huskies are currently tied for eighth place with Maine. Maine has a game in hand on us, but UConn owns the tiebreaker and the benefit of a much easier remaining schedule. The Huskies have this two-game series with UNH, and then a home date with last-place UMass in the regular season finale on Friday, March 27th.

Maine has two home games against Northeastern and two games at Providence to close out their season. I like UConn's chances.

This is certainly not meant to look past New Hampshire, who sits only three points back of UConn and Maine in the standings. The Wildcats have split each of their past three Hockey East series against Notre Dame, Vermont and BU. Their last game was a 4-3 win over the No. 2 BU Terriers at home. The wins against Vermont and Notre Dame came on the road-- pretty impressive run for a team at the bottom of the conference standings.

Conversely, UConn has had a rough go over the past few weeks. They've lost three of their last four games, outscored 25-2 in those three losses. Most recently, they were swept in a weekend home-and-home series with Northeastern. The first leg was a 9-1 loss in Boston. We thought the Huskies would find their way in the home re-match on Valentines Day, instead they fell 6-1.

The Huskies will need to sharpen their play heading into this crucial stretch, and it starts with the the power play. UConn is 0-28 with a man-advantage in the past seven games. Woof. This has been an issue all season, as the Huskies are dead-last in the conference in power play percentage (PP%) and are tied for third-fewest power play goals in the nation with just 12.

Speaking of 12 goals, that's exactly how many freshman Spencer Naas has scored on the season, including a Hockey East-leading five game-winners. He's two goals away from tying the UConn Division I rookie record for goals in a season (14, Andrew Olson, 2007-'08) and the Huskies are 7-2-2 when the freshman scores so hopefully he can find the back of the net tonight.

New Hampshire is paced by an offense ranked fourth in the conference in average goals per game with 3. That offense is led by sophomore forward Tyler Kelleher, whose 29 points (12G/19A) have him ranked sixth in Hockey East. Senior Grayson Downing leads the team in goals with 14 and the Wildcats have a key freshman contributor of their own, Andrew Poturalski, who has 23 points on 11 goals and 12 assists.

The Wildcats defense has been among the worst in the conference, allowing an average of 3.2 goals per game. So if the Great Wall of Nichols does what he does and UConn's defensive tenacity can close shooting lanes, we might be able to get some goals against this team and hold on for a win. If this game is a high-scoring affair it may hurt our chances, but hopefully the home crowd can push UConn over the top as we aim to finish the season strong.

GO HUSKIES!!

Programming Note: UConn's away game in this series tomorrow night will be televised on NESN, and it looks like the #ICEBUS will get some love.

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