Men’s Preview: UConn @ #12 UVM

Three hundred and eighteen days.

That’s how long it’s been since the Vermont Catamounts and Connecticut Huskies last met in men’s hockey. When the Catamounts celebrated Brian Bowen’s game winner with 1:19 to go to sweep the Huskies in the Hockey East first round at the XL Center.

A lot has changed since, namely in the fact that the Catamounts are Actually Good now, but UConn is a formidable foe.

The Huskies currently sit at 9-8-6 overall and 5-4-2 in Hockey East, good for seventh in the conference. That’s impressive for a team that joined Hockey East just two years ago, and prior to that were a mediocre team in college hockey’s weakest conference. That being said, it’s been a real Jekyll and Hyde season, as they’ve beaten BU and UMass-Lowell and tied the River Hawks and Ohio State…while simultaneously losing to Sacred Heart and Maine to go with ties against AIC and UMass.

UConn has rolled with a tandem in goal this year, but if I were a betting gal, I’d put my money on Adam Huska to start. The Slovak was probably the only thing about his World Junior team worth watching, stopping 38 against Canada to open the tournament in a game where his team only managed six shots on goal. He’s posted a .922 save percentage in his freshman campaign, and was last year’s USHL goaltender of the year. (Side note, this means UVM has played two former USHL goaltenders of the year in back-to-back weeks; Hayden Hawkey won it in 2014) Rob Nichols has been okay as backup, with a .913 save percentage in 10 games.

The weak spot for the Huskies is defense. No defender has more than 10 points, and they don’t make up for it with shot suppression; UConn has the fourth-most shot attempts against in the country, only ahead of Arizona State, RPI, and Canisius. Even if you remove blocked shots, they’ve still conceded the fifth-most shot attempts in the country, behind the three mentioned earlier plus Alaska.

Offensively, UConn is in the middle of the pack nationally, but they’ve got some formidable weapons. I’ve been a huge fan of Maxim Letunov for a while, and not just because he’s Russian; he led them in scoring last year and is second this year. Ahead of him is St. Louis Blues draft pick and World Junior Champion Tage Thompson (14 goals), who has been the main beneficiary of Letunov’s playmaking (15 assists). They’ve got a solid second duo behind Letunov and Thompson in Max Kalter (16 points) and Spencer Naas (14 points), as Naas (12 goals) benefits from Kalter’s playmaking (13 assists).

Game is at 6pm and will be on NESN/ASN at Gutterson. Teams will rematch next weekend in Hartford, so I’ll just re-use this as the primer.

Go Cats.

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