Two weeks after dressing just 18 skaters instead of the full allotment of 19 due to injuries, UConn men’s hockey may finally be back to full health for its final weekend series before the midseason break.
Jake Flynn returned against Miami from a concussion while Kale Howarth (abdominal) and Bradley Stone (mono) are both expected back. Jonny Evans is “50/50” to suit up after breaking his finger back a month ago against Boston College and another undisclosed player questionable with an illness. Roman Kinal is still likely out for the year after dealing with a blood clot.
Even without two of its top forward in Evans and Howarth, UConn netted 10 goals in two games against Miami. On top of that, the Huskies got a balanced scoring effort with nine different players finding the back of the net. That has been a theme for the team all season long with 15 different players recording goals this year.
“It’s a lot of depth up and down our lineup,” head coach Mike Cavanaugh said. “Like last weekend, Justin Howell, Zac Robbins, Brian Rigali, they chipped in quite a bit. When you can get that type of secondary scoring, it makes you a much tougher team to beat.”
While team chemistry and lack of identity were visible issues at the beginning of the season, both have now become UConn’s biggest strengths. The Huskies pride themselves on their blue collar, grind it out, collective style of play on the ice.
“When you’re generating chances, as we did on Friday night and Saturday night, you have to work hard and win one-on-one battles, retrieve the puck, get a shot on net then go retrieve it again and that’s what we were able to do,” Cavanaugh said. “And when you’re able to do that consistently over a long period of time, whether it’s 20 minutes, 40 minutes, 60 minutes, you’re able to wear your opponent down.”
So as talented as both Evans and Howarth are, Cavanaugh wants to make sure they buy into the team mentality before he puts them back into the lineup.
“They’re good hockey players. But we’ve been playing well without them as well and we’re playing well because we’re playing the game the right way,” he said. “As long as they come back into the lineup and continue to follow the lead that Wyatt Newpower, Ben Freeman and Sasha Payusov have set — they really have set the standard for how we want to play — then we’re going to be fine. If they try to rely too much on talent and skill, then we’re going to struggle. We have to continue to play that good, blue-collar style of hockey.”
UVM comes into the weekend in rough shape, sporting an ugly 1-9-2 record. Despite a solid defense that ranks 36th in the country (out of 60) in goals per game and an elite goaltender in Stefanos Lekkas, the Catamounts offense has been totally and utterly anemic. They rank dead last in the nation with a measly 1.33 goals per game and have scored multiple goals just five times in 12 games.
Lucas Andrew leads the team with five points on the year but on the flip side, 11 different Huskies have at least five points so far this season. But despite the ugly record and lack of production on offense, Cavanaugh isn’t taking Vermont lightly.
“I don’t think (their record reflects their play). I’ve watched a lot of their games. They tied Arizona State last week, they tied Boston University, they played Boston College tough,” he said. “I think they’re just a really physical team that can grind. They’re hard to play against and they have one of the best goalies in the league. I think he’s capable of beating you just by himself so we’ll have to generate a lot of offensive chances and when we can, take his eyes away.”
UVM’s sole victory came over St. Lawrence, who ranks 56 out of 60 in the Pairwise Rankings. The Catamounts are slightly better, coming at No. 54 while UConn sits at 38 after sweeping Miami.
2020-21 Non-Conference Slate
After a relatively mundane non-conference schedule this season, UConn’s 2020-21 slate should have some more intrigue.
The Huskies have series scheduled with Ohio State and Arizona State along with a game against Sacred Heart at the XL Center. The Huskies will also head to Milwaukee for a two-game tournament and play at Colgate for one game as well. The second edition of Connecticut Ice will fill the final two games on UConn’s non-conference schedule.
Dates and times will be announced later by the school.
Fun With Numbers
- With a weekend sweep, UConn can go into the midseason break with a record above .500 for the first time in the program’s Hockey East history.
- In the Hockey East Era, the Huskies are 6-8-0 against UVM. UConn has won three of the last four, though.
- The two schools first meeting came back in 1963 when the Huskies were blown out 11-2 in Storrs. However, high scores were a common occurrence during the early days of the series. In the next meeting, UConn won 10-5 before Vermont returned the favor with a 10-5 win of its own.
- Benjamin Freeman is on a four-game point streak. Last weekend, he also recorded the 11th multi-point game of his career. When that happens, the Huskies are 8-2-1.
- Last season, UConn failed to win a single game when trailing after the first period. This year alone, the Huskies already have two wins when down after the first 20 minutes.