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Notebook: UConn men’s hockey likely without two top forwards this weekend

The Huskies will be shorthanded for their upcoming matchup with No. 11 BU in a game that has serious postseason implications.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

Note: Hockey East announced the matchup between UConn and BU on Friday night at Walter Brown Arena has been canceled due to non-COVID reasons. The UConn Blog has learned that the issue is on BU’s end, not UConn’s. We’ll have updates as they become available.

UConn men’s hockey will likely be without two of its top forwards this weekend against BU. Vladislav Firstov has been ruled out for Saturday’s while Hudson Schandor is listed as doubtful with unspecified injuries suffered from the Huskies’ 4-0 loss to Providence last Friday, head coach Mike Cavanaugh said on a Zoom call with media on Thursday.

Cavanaugh mentioned that Schandor could be a game-time decision on Saturday if he progresses well enough, but reiterated that the freshman is still doubtful.

Firstov (three goals, eight assists) previously missed seven of the team’s first nine games while playing with Team Russia at World Juniors and didn’t return until Jan. 15. With Firstov in the lineup, the Huskies average 3.6 goals per game compared to 2.0 per game without him. The sophomore averages one point per game, the second-best mark on the team.

Schandor (four goals, five assists) has also played a key role as a freshman. He’s excelled in the face-off circle, winning 52.9 percent of draws and plays on UConn’s power play and penalty kill units. Schandor is also third among forwards with 12 blocks this season, so his absence will hurt the Huskies’ defense as well.

It doesn’t help that UConn lacks depth up top, either. Of the four forwards that did not dress last game, Cassidy Bowes has two points while Eric Linell, Gavin Puskar, and John Wojciechowski all have zero. Bowes and Linell (each with nine games played) will likely be elevated to replace Firstov and Schandor in the lineup.

NCAA Tournament selection process coming into focus

There’s finally some clarity on how at-large bids will be selected for the NCAA Tournament this season. Typically, Pairwise rankings (glorified RPI, essentially) are used to decide which teams get in, but the lack of non-conference play around the country has rendered the metric useless.

That means the process will be subjective for the first time in a while this season. A six-person selection committee will work with an advisory group comprised of six coaches — Notre Dame’s Jeff Jackson (Big Ten), Bentley’s Ryan Soderquist (Atlantic Hockey), Lake Superior State’s Damon Whitten (WCHA), New Hampshire’s Mike Souza (Hockey East), Rensselaer’s David Smith (ECAC), and St. Cloud State’s Brett Larson (NCHC) — to pick the field, though the selection committee will get the final say, per USCHO.com.

Their criteria will be similar to that of Pairwise (win-loss record, strength of schedule, head-to-head results, etc.) to rank teams within each conference, though overtime wins and losses will be thrown out unless used to compare two teams. From there, it will be up to the committee select to which teams have the best case for an NCAA Tournament bid, according to USCHO’s Jimmy Connelly.

Though Cavanaugh favors using Pairwise to pick the field since it’s “transparent” and lets teams know what they need to do to get in, he understands the necessity of changing the process this season.

“I don’t know if they had any other choice,” he said. “I think it’s gonna be really important for the league commissioners to advocate for the teams in their league. I think that’s going to be an integral part of it.”

Since 2009, at least three Hockey East have made the NCAA Tournament every year. That number could be even higher this year with the league’s reputation as one of the best conferences in the country.

That means these final three weeks will be crucial for UConn, who sit in fourth place in the standings according to the Hockey East Power Index — a metric similar to Pairwise. If the Huskies can finish the regular season strong and hold onto their position, they should be in the conversation for the NCAA Tournament.

Injury report

Along with Firstov and Schandor, Roman Kinal remains out with an MCL injury.

BU will be without defenseman David Farrance, the team’s leading scorer with 14 points, and goaltender Drew Commesso.

How to watch

Saturday’s matchup at Freitas Ice Forum will be broadcast on the CW20 as well as on SportsLive. Puck drop is set for 4:00 p.m.