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UConn Men's Hockey Preview: Huskies Weekend Series with Providence

After tying Merrimack in disappointing fashion, the UConn Huskies have two games with one of the best teams in Hockey East.

Ian Bethune

Key Stats

UConn

Goals/Game: 2.09 (10th in Hockey East)

Goals Against: 3.06 (Tied for 8th)

Power Play: 20.9% (6th)

Penalty Kill: 83.0% (4th)

Providence

Goals/Game: 3.00 (4th)

Goals Against: 2.06 (4th)

Power Play: 23.0% (1st)

Penalty Kill: 81.5% (6th)

Last year, UConn Hockey fans were ecstatic as the Huskies were vying for a top-eight seed in their inaugural Hockey East season. Unfortunately, the conference newcomers faltered down the stretch as the Huskies were blasted by a combined score of 36-6 in six games by Providence, Northeastern, and New Hampshire.

Fast forward one year and the Huskies find themselves in almost an identical situation. Tied for sixth with only four points separating seeds No. 6 and No. 12, UConn's playoff positioning will be determined against the same exact teams which outscored the Huskies by 30 goals last year. What lessons the returning players learned from last season and how the freshmen hold up down the stretch will determine their success.

UConn has a tough task this weekend. The No. 5 Providence Friars have followed up their national championship with a great regular season. Entering the weekend, the Friars are 19-5-4 and 4th in Hockey East with 23 points.

Head coach Nate Leaman's team is led by a terrific group of senior forwards. Mark Jankowski and Trevor Mingoia lead the team with 28 points apiece but the Friars get offense from all over their roster. The team has six players with at least 20 points, including sophomore defenseman standout Jake Walman, who is tied for second nationally in power-play goals.

The blue line is stacked with top defensemen. Walman is joined by John Gilmour, returning from a shoulder injury this weekend, Tom Parisi, and Anthony Florentino. Although the team lost All-American goalie Jon Gillies to the pros, junior Nick Ellis has stepped in to do a superb job. Ellis is playing to a .929 save percentage with a spectacular 2.05 goals against. With top talent throughout the roster, Providence is poised to make another championship run.

UConn comes into the weekend off a 2-2 tie to Merrimack where it was badly outplayed in third period but managed to find itself in the lead after a record-setting goal by Max Letunov. Sadly, the Huskies relinquished their lead with less than a minute remaining.

UConn goes into this weekend with the status of Rob Nichols still in question. Nichols has missed the last five games with an ankle sprain and is questionable for this weekend. The effect of his absence cannot be understated.

Prior to Nichols' injury against Maine, Nichols was playing to a wonderful .934 save percentage and 2.10 goals against from December 5th to January 16th. Although Tanner Creel has done a solid job in Nichols' absence, having Nichols between the pipes for this weekend would be a welcomed upgrade against a championship caliber team. His presence in net could help UConn score a crucial point or two that will go a long way in the coming weeks.

Whether or not Nichols plays, UConn will need help offensively from all four lines.

Max Letunov continues to add to his point streak, notching one in 16 of his last 17 games and setting the UConn Division 1 freshman record for goals in a season with his 15th. Additionally, he has scored a goal in six straight contests.

Although Letunov's top line has provided the bulk of the scoring, the team will need offensive output from throughout the roster. Seniors Shawn Pauly and Patrick Kirtland experienced the frustration of the close to last season and will be counted on to provide leadership and scoring to carry the team to a strong close the regular season. In addition, freshman Marco Richter has quietly established himself in the second half of the season.

With only three weekends remaining in the regular season, those remaining home-ice are up for grabs. UConn is tied for sixth with three other squads.

However, the home stretch of UConn's schedule is harder than some of the others. Following their matchup with Providence, the Huskies face a surging Northeastern and a talented New Hampshire side.

Northeastern is looking at a much easier stretch run with series against a struggling UMass, UConn, and 10th place Maine. Vermont closes with two each against UNH, Boston College, and Merrimack while UNH has Vermont, Boston University, and UConn to close out the regular season.

By having the easier remaining schedule, Northeastern is most likely to claim a top-eight seed. The remaining two will be determined by how successful each school is claiming points against the top echelon of the conference. The matchup with Providence is a difficult series for UConn to expect any points from. If they are able to collect a point or two, it will go a long way as the season winds down.