Hockey is back. On Friday, the UConn men’s hockey team will take the ice for the first time in the regular season when the Huskies travel up to Orono, Maine to take on the Maine Black Bears at Alfond Arena. UConn is 1-2-0 in Hockey East openers, with the lone win coming last year in South Bend against Notre Dame.
It is the regular season opener for the Black Bears as well, who grabbed a 3-1 win over Acadia University in their exhibition game.
Maine was one of the weaker teams in Hockey East last year, finishing 12th with a 5-12-2 conference record and an overall record of 11-21-4. That trend may continue into this year as the Black Bears finished tied for 10th place with UMass in the Hockey East preseason coaches’ poll.
In last season’s two matchups, both of which were at neutral sites, the teams split the series.
UConn won the opener at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport 6-3 on a Wyatt Newpower power play goal late in the second period, but Maine came back at Fenway Park and shut out the Huskies at Frozen Fenway, 4-0.
UConn was last in Maine during the 2015-16 season, when the Huskies took three of four points with a 1-0 win to open the series and a 1-1 tie the following night.
The Black Bears’ two top scorers, Blaine Byron (18-23—41) and Cam Brown (4-35—39), both graduated and they will instead be relying on Nolan Vesey (13-10—23) and Chase Pearson (14-8—22) to take a step forward in their senior and sophomore years, respectively.
Rob McGovern started 28 of Maine’s 36 games last season and should reprise the role of starting goaltender as a junior. He finished with a 9-15-3 record and a 2.99 goals against average to go along with a .912 save percentage.
One intangible that the Huskies will have to overcome during the series is the aura of Alfond Arena. Coaches often say that the 5,641 seat rink on the northern end of campus is one of the hardest places to play in the country and the stats back this up.
Maine was 9-6-0 in 2016-17 at home and went winless in true road games, with the raucous crowds propelling the Black Bears to a 38-26-5 record at home since 2013-14. They have won 51 games in that timespan.
For Mike Cavanaugh’s squad, junior forward Maxim Letunov (7-20—27), senior forward Spencer Naas (15-7—22) and junior forward Max Kalter (4-16—20) are the Huskies’ returning offensive leaders and they hope Karl El-Mir (9-5—14) will be fully healthy after missing some time with mono last season.
UConn goaltender Adam Huska made 21 starts last season, sharing the starting duties with Rob Nichols, posting a .916 save percentage and allowed 2.87 goals per game. The sophomore was also named to the 20-man Mike Richter award watchlist, given annually by the Herb Brooks Foundation to the most outstanding Division I goaltender.
UConn and Maine will begin the 2017-18 season on Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Alfond Arena, with the second game of the series coming at 4 p.m. on Saturday.
More UConn Hockey Preview:
The UConn Blog will be on hand to cover the action. Be sure to follow @ShawnMMcGrath for updates!