clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

UConn men’s hockey postseason primer

Everything to know about the Huskies’ this season ahead of their matchup with BU in the Hockey East Quarterfinals on Saturday.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

UConn men’s hockey will kick off the postseason at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday against the Boston University Terriers at the XL Center in Hartford. The Huskies are coming off a regular season in which they compiled an 18-15-0 overall record and 14-10-0 mark in Hockey East play, setting a record for both total wins and league wins under head coach Mike Cavanaugh.

UConn finished tied with the Terriers and Merrimack for fourth place in the Hockey East standings with 41 points but earned the No. 4 seed in the playoffs by owning the three-way tiebreaker over the other two schools. That meant the Huskies got the first-round bye and earned home ice in the Hockey East quarterfinals against Boston University while Merrimack had to play Maine on Wednesday.

So whether you’ve watched every game, are a casual fan or are just tuning in for the first time, we put together the ultimate preview for UConn’s massive matchup with the Terriers on Saturday.

How to watch

Date: Saturday, March 12
Time: 4:30 p.m.
Location: XL Center, Hartford, CT
Stream: SportsLive.com (free)
Radio: UConn Sports Network

Regular season recap

UConn opened the campaign with a 6-3 win over in-state rival Sacred Heart — its first victory over the Pioneers since joining Hockey East — which sparked a 6-3-0 start to the season. The Huskies hit their first skid when they dropped three straight games against Boston College, Providence and UMass Lowell but rebounded by defeating the River Hawks at home and followed it with a 6-1 thrashing of Colgate.

Then, UConn’s first half unexpectedly came to an end. An outbreak of COVID-19 swept through the Huskies’ locker room, which forced their final two series before the winter break against Merrimack and AIC to be postponed.

As a result, UConn didn’t play a single game in the month of December and returned to action with a disappointing 6-3 at Harvard on Jan. 2. The Huskies bounced back with a 5-4 win at Boston College — a thrilling game in which Kevin O’Neil scored a game-winner with 32 seconds left, just 22 seconds after the Eagles tied the game — to earn their first-ever win at Kelley Rink.

The momentum didn’t last, though. UConn lost its next three games to AIC, Boston University and New Hampshire before scraping out an overtime victory against the Wildcats to get back on the right track.

From there, the Huskies caught fire. They won their next six Hockey East contests — and seven of eight overall with the lone defeat coming to No. 2 Quinnipiac in the Connecticut Ice championship game. UConn’s streak came to an end with a home loss to UMass but it pulled out a weekend split with a tough road victory over the Minutemen the next night.

The Huskies then ended up on the wrong side of a series sweep against Northeastern despite putting 103 shots on goal in the two games. The second game also included a controversial goaltender interference call that would’ve put UConn up in the third period — a decision Hockey East later apologized for.

The Huskies then played their worst performance of the year in a 5-3 loss to Vermont but finished the regular season with a 4-0 win over the Catamounts to enter the postseason on a high note.

Strengths

Balanced scoring: UConn features the fourth-best offense in Hockey East at 3.06 goals per game due to a balanced attack. The Huskies have three players with at least 10 goals — and nobody with more than 13 — while seven other players have found the back of the net at least three times. Since the start of February, UConn’s offense has been particularly hot, averaging 3.5 goals per game and totaling at least four goals in five of 10 contests.

The penalty kill: The Huskies’ penalty kill unit has been a rock from start to finish and currently ranks sixth in the nation with a .877 percentage on the penalty kill. UConn has allowed multiple power play goals just three times in 33 games and hasn’t given one up in its last five outings.

Weaknesses

Playing at the XL Center: No, seriously. When playing at home, UConn is just 7-7-0 overall and 5-7-0 in Hockey East play, compared to 12-8-0 away overall and 9-3-0 in Hockey East from the XL Center. The Huskies have also struggled scoring in Hartford, with just 2.0 goals per game against league opponents at home and 4.1 goals per game on the road. Their 4-0 win over Vermont in the regular season finale was the first time they surpassed three goals at the XL Center in Hockey East play.

The power play: This one comes with an asterisk. Overall, UConn’s power play has been abysmal this season, scoring just 13 times on 99 opportunities — the fifth-worst mark in the country. But after the Huskies went away from typical power play units (four forwards, one defenseman) in favor of standard line pairings (three forwards, two defensemen), they’ve scored at least one goal on the advantage in five of their last six games.

Players to watch

Ryan Tverberg: UConn’s leader goal scorer with 13, Tverberg has been a breakout star this season. He uses his speed to torch defenses but also has the skill, strength and vision to make plays anywhere on the ice. At one point, Tverberg went 12 games without scoring and totaled just three assists in that span, so in his 21 other games, the sophomore has 28 points on 13 goals and 15 assists.

Jachym Kondelik: The team leader in assists (20) and points (32), Kondelik has been UConn’s most consistent player. He’s recorded a point in 24 of 33 games and has set a career high with 12 goals on the year. Kondelik was named Hockey East’s Best Offensive Defenseman and a second team all-star.

The senior also became the program’s Division I leader in assists and the Hockey East Era leader in points earlier this season.

Carter Turnbull: After a slow start to the year, Turnbull has quietly become one of UConn’s top goal scorers in the second half. Nine of his 11 scores have come since the new year and he joins Tverberg and Kondelik as the only player with double-digit goals.

Marc Gatcomb: While Gatcomb’s production is solid — his 18 points on seven goals and 11 assists is tied for fourth-most on the squad — his biggest contributions are harder to quantify. At 6-foot-2, Gatcomb plays a physical brand of hockey and tries to get under the skin of his opponents with roughhousery and trash talk.

Vladislav Firstov: The junior has been wildly inconsistent this season but he’s probably the most talented forward on UConn’s roster and is capable of making a highlight-reel play at any moment — like this goal at Northeastern that landed him on SportsCenter top 10.

Darion Hanson: The graduate net-minder has started all but one game between the pipes for the Huskies and has played some of his best hockey down the stretch. He earned his first shutout in a UConn uniform on senior day last Saturday and owns a 2.33 goals against average and 2.19 save percentage.

The defensive corps: The Huskies don’t have a single standout defensemen but make up for it with a balanced and well-rounded group of seven regulars. Carter Berger, Jake Flynn and John Spetz are the most offensive-minded, Jarrod Gourley and Roman Kinal are more defensive-minded while Harrison Rees and Ryan Wheeler fall somewhere in between. While it’s not a flashy unit, it gets the job done more often than not.

Season series with Boston University

UConn went 1-2-0 against the Terriers during the regular season and both defeats came at the XL Center. The Huskies fell 2-1 in their second game of the year after giving up two goals in the final six minutes but rebounded with a dominant 5-1 win at Agganis Arena the next night.

Boston University returned to Hartford for a one-off matchup on Jan. 14. BU scored late in the first period to take a 1-0 lead and held it for most of the game until Sasha Teleguine found the equalizer with seven minutes left in regulation. In overtime, the Terriers’ Jay O’Brien won the game in just eight seconds after the puck slipped under Carter Turnbull’s stick on the face-off, which gave O’Brien an easy breakaway. He scored to give Boston University another 2-1 victory.

Postseason history

The Huskies will go for their first-ever win in the Hockey East Playoffs on Saturday. They are 0-9 all-time, though the current senior class has played just one postseason game — a 6-1 loss to Providence last year.

In 2019, UConn didn’t make the playoffs after Hockey East changed the format so that only the top eight teams got in. The Huskies finished ninth. The next year, UConn earned the fifth seed and was set to play a best-of-three series at Maine before the onset of the COVID pandemic shut the entire tournament down. Last season, Hockey East changed the format again by making it single-elimination. UConn beat Providence 5-3 in the regular season finale to earn the No. 4 seed but had to play the Friars again just a week later and couldn’t replicate the performance.