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UConn men’s hockey finishes inconsistent first half strong

The Huskies have won five of their last six outings.

UConn's Derek Pratt (2), Johnny Austin (6) and Adam Huska (30) during the UConn Huskies vs UMass Minutemen men's college hockey game at the Mullins Center in Amherst, MA on December 1, 2017.
UConn's Derek Pratt (2), Johnny Austin (6) and Adam Huska (30) during the UConn Huskies vs UMass Minutemen men's college hockey game at the Mullins Center in Amherst, MA on December 1, 2017.
Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

UConn men’s hockey has completed the symbolic first half of their season, heading into finals and the ensuing winter break with an 8-11-2 record overall and a 5-7-1 Hockey East record, good for sixth place in the conference.

It was not always smooth sailing for the Huskies despite their win total, which is the highest they have had at the break in the Hockey East era. The Huskies suffered through a 1-9-2 stretch from late October until late November, but followed it up by ending the first half of the season on a 5-1-0 run.

As Adam Huska goes, the Huskies will go, too

Adam Huska is the only option in net. It’s been a small sample size, but in Tanner Creel’s two opportunities to start - one against American International College and another against No. 17 Ohio State - he was relieved by Huska each time and had a .692 save percentage, allowing eight goals on 26 shots in 62 minutes of combined play.

Freshman Bradley Stone is the other option between the pipes, and he played out the stretch against UMass in the Huskies’ 8-2 win over the Minutemen in his only action. He looked very shaky and allowed a goal on two shots in 5:19 of action. Stone looked like a typical freshman in the crease and isn’t ready for high-flying Hockey East action yet. If Huska begins to flounder, the team will not be far behind.

The busy first half means it could be a good second half

UConn played 21 games in the fall semester. In the last 10 years, the Huskies have not played more than 16, playing a relatively evenly distributed schedule. With the front-loaded slate, UConn will take the ice only 13 more times in the regular season, including just four contests over the final 19 days of the year and games on back-to-back nights just twice.

The Huskies are 1-5-2 in the second parts of back-to-backs this year and the increased rest and practice time could mean more wins for Mike Cavanaugh and his team.

Alexander Payusov is the Huskies’ most important skater

The sophomore from Montreal is not the Huskies’ best skater (that title probably belongs to Maxim Letunov), but Letunov is not the goalscorer that Payusov is and without goals, it’s tough to win college hockey games.

He missed nine games due to a knee issue and UConn scored 21 goals in that time, for 2.33 goals per game. It was frequently boom or bust for the Huskies offense without him, but with him, they have registered 3.25 goals per game (39 goals in 12 games). He has also scored a point in each of his four games (3-1—4) since returning.

He is a catalyst on the power play and is one off the national pace, grabbing six goals with the man advantage. He has been the most important piece of the offensive puzzle and his health going forward is crucial for the team’s success.

UConn will next get on the ice on Dec. 30 against Boston College. Puck drop at Conte Forum in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts is at 3 p.m.