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Takeaways following UConn men’s hockey’s split with No. 10 Providence

The Huskies defeated Providence for the first time in the Hockey East era.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

UConn men’s hockey got its first victory in 2018 after a 3-1 win at No. 10 Providence on Saturday, earning a split in the series after Thursday’s defeat by the same score. The Huskies, after beating then-No. 12 Northeastern on Nov. 28, have now beaten every Hockey East school at least once since joining the league and have also won at seven of the 10 opponents’ rinks in Hockey East.

Here are some takeaways from this past weekend:

Tanner Creel was solid in goal

The senior net minder had not seen game action outside of exhibition play since Feb. 19, 2016 when he stepped between the pipes against American International on Oct. 13. He lasted 14:31, allowing three goals on seven shots. His only other start, a loss against then-No. 17 Ohio State went marginally better.

Through 79:22 of play, Creel had a .763 save percentage and a 6.80 goals against average. The only other option between the pipes when Adam Huska sprained his wrist early in the week was freshman Bradley Stone, who looked shaky in mop up duty against UMass on Dec. 5, his only appearance. Neither goaltender had been playing well, but Creel is more experienced.

When Providence had scored two goals on him within the first 4:57 of Thursday’s battle, things did not look good. However, Creel stepped up and allowed two goals over his next 113:47. He made 26 saves, some of which were downright impressive, on 27 shots. If he can continue to live up to the Hockey East top performer status he reached last weekend, he will really help out while the Huskies are without Huska.

The upcoming New Hampshire series is crucial

UConn is seventh in Hockey East, five points back of a top-five spot that would grant them a bye in the first round. However, they have played at least two more games than everyone in the conference except Boston University, who also has played 18. In addition, they are just two points ahead of ninth place, which would put them on the road in the first round and each of the teams below them have at least three games in hand.

Hockey East Standings

Team Games Played Record Points Points per game
Team Games Played Record Points Points per game
Northeastern 16 11-4-1 23 1.44
Boston College 15 11-4-0 22 1.47
Providence 16 9-5-2 20 1.25
Boston University 18 9-7-2 20 1.11
UMass Lowell 16 9-7-0 18 1.13
Maine 15 6-6-3 15 1.00
UConn 18 6-11-1 13 0.72
UMass 13 5-7-1 11 0.85
New Hampshire 14 4-7-3 11 0.79
Merrimack 15 4-9-2 10 0.67
Vermont 14 2-9-3 7 0.50

New Hampshire, next weekend’s opponent, is two points back and has only played 14 games. If the season were to end today, both the Wildcats as well as UMass would leapfrog them due to points per game. The Huskies have only six league games left and if they don’t get something this weekend, they could be traveling in the first round.

This team seems to respond favorably to physical play

At the end of Thursday’s tilt, things got chippy. Despite the teams getting essentially 48 hours to cool off before they took the ice on Saturday, the physicality went up a level in the series finale.

There were huge hits from both sides throughout and the teams combined for 45 penalty minutes, including a true line scrum with about three minutes to go when Brian Pinho ran into Creel on a net drive, and Brandon Duhaime’s five-minute major and 10-minute game misconduct for cross-checking after the final horn had blown.

When the playoffs come around, the game gets quicker and more physical. The fact that the Huskies stepped up and thrived in that kind of environment bodes well going forward. One of the big challenges for the Huskies as they upgraded to Hockey East was matching the physicality of their peers—things seem to finally be looking better on that front this year.

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UConn plays next against New Hampshire at Whittemore Center Arena on Friday. Puck drop is at 7 p.m. and will be on ESPN3.