Men's Hockey Notebook: Special teams key for Huskies in sweep of AIC
With a pair of victories over American International College - 3-2 on Friday night and 2-1 on Saturday night - the UConn men's hockey team improved its Atlantic Hockey record to 10-4-3 on the season and now stands just four points behind Mercyhurst, who leads the conference with 27.
In a series headlined by a slew of penalties and an abundance of big hits, UConn's special teams units were put to the test to the tune of 12 power plays and 10 penalty kills combined over the course of the two-game series.
"[Friday night] the power play won us a game," head coach Mike Cavanaugh said. "[Saturday night] I thought we had a couple good looks, probably we need to break out a little cleaner, and we'll work on that this week, but overall I think our power play this year has been really strong. [Saturday night] if we score some power play goals maybe we put the game away, but on the same token it won us a game [Friday night]."
After the two teams combined for 14 penalties on Friday night, both AIC (6-17-1, 5-11-1 AHA) and UConn picked up right where they left off on Saturday night, delivering big hits with aplomb from the initial puck drop to the final buzzer, and by game's end, each team had racked up four more penalties apiece.
"I think it's just part of the game," junior defenseman Jacob Poe said of the weekend's physicality. "They came out really strong at the beginning, and I think we responded the same way."
Despite finishing Saturday night 0-for-4 on the man advantage, the Huskies were a perfect four-for-four on the penalty kill, with perhaps the most crucial of the four kills coming with 3:42 remaining in the third period when UConn was hanging on to its one-goal lead.
"That's happened to us a couple of times this season," Cavanaugh said of the late third-period penalty kill. "Our penalty kill is very confident that we can kill penalties. I thought our five-on-four play, when we were down, was excellent all weekend long. We really were in sync and in rhythm, and I thought we did a nice job."
The Huskies finished the hard-fought series 2-for-12 on the man advantage, with two of their three goals in Friday night's 3-2 victory coming on the power play. Conversely, the penalty killing unit finished the weekend with an 80 percent success rate, fending off eight of the Yellow Jackets' 10 power plays.
UConn now ranks second in Atlantic Hockey in both power play and penalty kill percentage behind first-place Mercyhurst, boasting 22.1 percent and 82.7 percent success rates in each category, respectively. Senior winger Billy Latta is also tied for fourth in the conference in power play goals with six on the season.
The Huskies depart on a two-game road series this weekend against Atlantic Hockey rival Air Force in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 before returning home to take on Bentley University at Freitas Ice Forum on Feb. 7.
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