For the second year in a row, UConn men’s hockey will have a chance to secure home ice in the Hockey East Quarterfinals with a win in its regular season finale.
Last year, the Huskies traveled up to UMass Lowell in search of two points which would put them ahead of Maine for the fourth spot in the conference standings. UConn was ultimately buried by a fluky empty-net goal and fell 3-1, resulting in a fifth-place finish.
This season, the Huskies will have a chance to write a different narrative. Unlike last season where UConn went on a late run sparked by some clutch goals, this year’s squad has mostly held firm in fourth place ever since the Hockey East Power Index came out.
For their final game of the season, Hockey East set up a season-ending showdown with fifth-place Providence on Friday night at Freitas Ice Forum. The winner will finish in fourth, thus securing home ice in the quarterfinals.
Above all else, head coach Mike Cavanaugh believes these last two season finales show how far the program has come in just a few years.
“It’s a great thing. If someone said a few years ago that UConn is going to be back-to-back years playing a game that means home ice in the top four in the playoffs, you’d be pretty excited about where the program is,” he said.
“It’s not a must-win game but it’s a very important game,” Cavanaugh said. “We have to embrace that challenge. I’m excited that we’ve put ourselves in this position again in a very tough competitive league. So it’s an awesome opportunity and that’s how we have to look at it.”
The Huskies have finished in fifth twice but never higher, so they’ll have a chance to make some history on Friday. While the home-ice advantage doesn’t mean as much this season given the lack of fans, it’s still valuable.
“It’s easy, you don’t have to get on a bus, you don’t have to travel, you’re very familiar with the surroundings,” Cavanaugh said. “So from that standpoint, it’s nice. That’s an advantage.”
There could also be larger implications than just conference seeding. UConn and Providence are both likely on the bubble for an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament. A win would not only boost the Huskies’ resume, but it would also get them closer to another big breakthrough for the program.
The NCAA requires teams to have a record of .500 or above to receive an at-large bid. Currently, UConn sits at 9-10-2 which means a win over the Friars would put the Huskies back at .500.
After that, UConn would only have to win one game in the Hockey East playoffs to ensure its eligibility. With a loss on Friday, the Huskies would need to make a run to the title game.
It isn’t do-or-die for UConn just yet but Friday night’s matchup with Providence is shaping up to be one of the most important regular season games in the Huskies’ Hockey East history.
Vladislav Firstov is expected to return to the lineup after missing the last three games with a lower-body injury, according to a source.
UConn will be without Nick Capone, who left last Friday’s game against Maine with a lower-body injury.
How to watch
When: Friday, March 4, 5 p.m.
Where: Freitas Ice Forum, Storrs, CT
Radio: UConn Sports Network (97.9 ESPN and affiliates)