UConn vs. Vermont, Friday, January 22, 8:30 p.m., XL Center
Television: NESN, SNY
University of Vermont Catamounts
Overall record: 9-14-2 (3-7-2, tied for 8th in Hockey East)
Goals per Game: 2.12 (11th in HE)
Goals Allowed per Game: 2.64 (5th in HE)
Power Play: 11.4% (10th in HE)
Penalty Kill: 79.0% (10th in HE)
The rumors are true. UConn men's hockey still plays home games. Friday night, the Huskies return to the XL Center for the first time since December 11th as the #Icebus have completed its 7-game roadshow covering 6,289 miles. It was a journey which saw them collect 3 wins, move from tenth to sixth in Hockey East, and in their penultimate performance of the tour, the team possibly played their greatest rendition of their hit song: "Rob Nichols Stopping Shots on Net."
On Friday night, after Shawn Pauly tallied the lone goal of the evening, the Huskies battened down the hatches as though a category-4 storm was about to blow through Alfond Arena. The second and third periods resembled a 40-minute power play for the Black Bears. Somehow, after 81 shot attempts, with 44 finding their way to Rob Nichols, the #Icebus was still standing.
Overall, the weekend was a success, with the Huskies claiming three out of four possible points. However, spending extended periods of time in the defensive zone was not encouraging. This was one area head coach Mike Cavanaugh wanted to avoid this season but it was clearly a problem against Maine. It is an area which must be improved upon for this weekend against tougher competition this weekend. UConn cannot afford an encore of their performance in Orono if they intend to collect any points this weekend.
The Huskies come into the weekend buoyed by a tremendous performance by Rob Nichols. Nichols was the number one reason UConn collected three points on the weekend and showed why UConn could be a tough out in the playoffs. On Thursday, however, Mike Anthony of the Hartford Courant reported Nichols is a game-time decision with an ankle injury.
If Nichols can play in only one game this weekend, it should be against Vermont. The Huskies' two games this weekend are both Hockey East contests and both have the same number of points on the line. However, with a clear separation between the top five teams and the rest of Hockey East, the contest against Vermont carries much more importance in terms of hosting a first round Hockey East series.
The underachieving Vermont Catamounts arrive at the XL Center after being swept by No. 3 Providence. During the weekend series, head coach Kevin Sneddon lost his composure on the bench following a 10-minute misconduct penalty called on Vermont forward Liam Coughlin and is suspended for Friday night's contest.
Even without Sneddon, the Catamounts will pose a tough test for UConn. The last three contests between the two schools have ended with the home team winning by a score of 2-1. However, unlike the last meeting, the Huskies will not be facing Vermont's number one netminder. Mike Santaguida sustained a lower body injury on December 5th against Boston University and has not played since. Freshman Packy Munson has filled in admirably.
Prior to the series against Providence, Munson was 5-2 with a 1.72 goals against average, including 3 shutouts. In terms of offense, Vermont is led by a number of solid forwards. Mario Puskarich leads the team with 20 points and 14 assists while Jarrid Privitera has 10 goals to lead the team. Other notable forwards are Brady Shaw, Anthony Petruzzelli, and Brendan Bailey. With positions 6-12 in Hockey East separated by just 4 points, Friday night's showdown carries much more importance than UConn's game against Boston College. If UConn can garner two points from this matchup it will go a long way in their attempt to host a first-round playoff series.
UConn at Boston College, Saturday, January 23, 7:00 p.m., Conte Forum
Boston College Eagles
Overall Record: 15-4-3 (#4 in USCHO National Poll) (8-1-3, 2nd in Hockey East)
Goals per Game: 4.05 (1st in HE)
Goals allowed per Game: 1.91 (2nd in HE)
Power Play: 19.8% (6th in HE)
Penalty Kill: 85.6% (1st in HE)
College hockey's all-time leader in coaching victories, Jerry York, needs one more win to reach the remarkable milestone of 1000 for his career. Boston College will face UMass on Friday followed by UConn on Saturday. Seeing that UMass is struggling, it is likely Coach York reaches the milestone Friday night. Whether the milestone is accomplished Friday or Saturday, it is fitting Mike Cavanaugh, an assistant for Coach York for 18 years at Boston College and 1 year at Bowling Green, will be able to personally congratulate his former boss when Coach York is honored for the accomplishment.
As far as the game goes on Saturday, if UConn can manage a single point Saturday it should be considered a major success. Boston College is loaded with high-end talent.
Forwards Ryan Fitzgerald and Colin White are currently tied for the team lead with 28 points but the Eagles have numerous forwards who can hurt an opposing team. Miles Wood, Alex Tuch, Zach Sanford, Austin Cangelosi are all capable of hurting an opponent at any time.
The blue line is protected by NHL-caliber talent such as Ian McCoshen, Steve Santini, and Casey Fitzgerald. Additionally, goalie Thatcher Demko is arguably the best netminder in the country. He currently holds a 1.74 goals against average with 6 shutouts. In November, the last time the schools met, the Eagles scored 4 goals within the first eleven minutes and the game was essentially over. UConn played much better in the final two periods but the damage was done.
Saturday will be a difficult game for UConn to win, especially if Nichols is unable to go.