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UConn Men’s Hockey Weekend Preview: Desert Hockey Classic

The Huskies will get two games in Prescott Valley, Arizona.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

UConn Men’s Hockey (6-6-6) finished their first half of the season on a high note, defeating UMass 3-1 right before final exams.

Freshman Adam Huska had another strong performance in goal, making 24 saves on 25 shots and Tage Thompson (12-8—20) scored twice. Thompson leads the team in goals and had 14 all of last year. Maxim Letunov also had two assists. He leads the team with 11 and tied Thompson for multi-point games with six.

The Huskies will begin their second half with two of their three final non-conference games in the Desert Hockey Classic in Prescott Valley, Arizona.

The Huskies will be without Thompson and Huska as they compete for their country at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championships. Karl El-Mir (6-3—9) also did not make the trip due to mononucleosis.

UConn will play two games in the event, with the first coming in a battle of the Huskies against No. 18 St. Cloud State Huskies (8-7-1). They will be without head coach Bob Motzko, who is coaching Team USA in the World Juniors.

St. Cloud State last played on Dec. 9 and 10 in a home series against Nebraska-Omaha. The two teams split the series, with St. Cloud taking the win in Saturday’s tilt.

Omaha held a 1-0 lead after the first period on Friday and St. Cloud was able to find a tying goal on the man advantage off the stick of Dennis Cholowski just 1:37 into the second period. However, the Mavericks scored two unanswered goals to take the victory.

St. Cloud jumped out to a 2-0 lead just 2:03 into the game and held a 2-1 lead after 20 minutes, but hung on for a 4-2 win after a goal by Judd Peterson 8:47 into the third period made their lead two goals.

St. Cloud is a team that relies on offense. They have a top-15 offense, scoring 3.38 goals per game, while allowing a 20th-worst 3.18 goals per game along with a 14th-worst .885 save percentage.

The Minnesota-based Huskies are led by junior forward Judd Peterson (9-4--13), who leads the team in goals and is tied for second in points with freshman defenseman Jack Achan (3-10—13) and junior forward Blake Winiecki (7-6—13). Mikey Eyissimont, a sophomore forward, leads the team in points (8-6—14).

Achan made the American World Juniors team and will not be skating for St. Cloud State.

Freshman Zach Driscoll has gotten most of the starts in goal, starting in 12 of 16 games, but he has been lifted four times for fellow freshman Jeff Smith. Driscoll has a 3.13 goals allowed average and a save percentage of .889. In a smaller sample size, Smith’s numbers are slightly better. He has allowed 2.95 goals per game and his save percentage is .890.

UConn’s other opponent will be whoever matches their result between the two weaker teams in this tournament, Brown and Arizona State.

The Arizona State Sun Devils (7-13-0) are in the middle of transitioning from a club program to a Division 1 team but head into the tournament on a three-game winning streak, taking victories from some of the bottom-feeders of Division I.

The Sun Devils last took a tour of western Massachusetts, beating American International 3-2 on Dec. 13 and then beat UMass on Dec. 17 and 18 in Amherst by a score of 4-1 both nights.

Senior forward Robbie Baillargeon (8-7—15) leads the team in points and goals, with no other member of the Sun Devils scoring more than five goals.

David Norris (3-9—12), a junior forward, leads in assists and is tied for second in points with forwards Wade Murphy (4-8—12) and Tyler Busch (5-7—12).

Goaltending time is split evenly between three goaltenders, but senior Robert Levin and freshman Joey Daccord get most of the starts. Levin has by far the best numbers, with a 3.47 GAA and a .901 save percentage. Daccord has a .864 save percentage to go along with a 4.90 GAA.

Brown (3-9-0) has similarly struggled this year, but comes into Arizona winning two of their last three games, against Army by a 3-1 score and a 6-1 win over Rensselaer.

Sam Lafferty (3-11—14), a junior forward, paces the Bears in points and assists, while the goals lead is held by fellow junior forward Charlie Corcoran (7-4—11). Those two are the only two Brown players to reach 10 points so far this year.

Freshman Gavin Nieto has manned the net for the majority of the season and has a GAA of 3.97 to go along with a save percentage of .877.

UConn plays against St. Cloud State on Dec. 30 at 6 p.m. If the Huskies play Brown it will also be at 6 p.m. on Dec. 31, with puck drop coming at 9 p.m. if it is against Arizona State. The games can both be heard on WHUS 91.7 FM.