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UConn men’s hockey preview: Merrimack

The Huskies take on the ninth-place Warriors on Friday.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

UConn men’s hockey couldn’t get it done for the second game in a row coming out of the winter break, losing to Quinnipiac 3-0 on Tuesday.

Mike Cavanaugh’s squad has continued to play well defensively, as Adam Huska and company have allowed more than two goals just once over the past nine games, and Huska’s save percentage across his last two outings is .927, but the offense isn’t giving their goaltender any support.

Dating back to the end of UConn’s victory over then-No. 16 Colgate, the Huskies have been scoreless in their last 124:32 and were shut out in back-to-back games for the first time since Nov. 2 and 3, 2012 against Niagara. The road does not get any easier this weekend as Merrimack comes to town Friday as part of their home-and-home series.

The Warriors (5-10-4, 2-6-2) have struggled this season but they have shown a penchant for knocking off big opponents. They are undefeated (2-0-1) against ranked teams their last three opportunities with both wins coming on the road, including at No. 2 Denver on Dec. 29. Those three games are part of a 3-1-1 streak for Merrimack that stretches back to Dec. 8.

The Warriors have been playing good hockey against tough opponents, but these two teams always play close against one another. In the Hockey East era, each side has one win, splitting the series in UConn’s first Hockey East season, 2014-15. In that season, the two teams also played to a 2-2 stalemate in a non-conference tournament.

Since then, the teams have tied four times, including three consecutive 2-2 draws.

Merrimack is led by Jace Hennig (7-10—17) and Brett Seney (6-11—17) in the offensive end. They have been playing on a top line with Tyler Irvine (3-1—4) that shouldered the load against Denver, getting two goals, one of which was on the power play, including the game-winner. Hennig leads the team in goals while Jared Kolquist (3-12—15) paces the Warriors in assists.

Overall, Merrimack struggles with the puck in even strength situations, scoring 2.37 goals per game, 11th-worst in the country. However, their power play is dangerous, sitting 18th in the country at 21.4 percent.

The Warriors are in a five-way tie for 32nd in Division I at 3.00 goals per game, but once a member of their own heads to the penalty box, which happens 5.47 times per game (29th in penalty minutes), they flounder, killing off a second-worst 74.4 percent of their penalties.

Craig Pantano has seen 12 of the 19 starts in net for Merrimack this season and with much better stats than his backup, he figures to get the start on Friday. He has a 2.32 goals against average, which is good for 16th in the country and fourth in Hockey East. His .919 save percentage is also fourth in Hockey East and 11th in the nation.

UConn and Merrimack get it going at the XL Center on Friday at 7:05 p.m. and will be broadcast on WTIC 1080 AM.