Men's hockey: UConn faces rival Bentley in battle for second
Fresh off of a two-game road trip to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. last weekend, the UConn men's hockey team returns to Storrs to take on Atlantic Hockey rival Bentley in a home-and-home this Friday and Saturday.
With only nine games remaining in his first UConn campaign, head coach Mike Cavanaugh said that while he feels comfortable with his team's position in the conference, the Huskies (13-8-4, 11-5-3 AHA) can't let up if they expect to capture the regular season conference crown come March.
"I like where we are right now. We're five points out of first place, we're a point out of second place, and we get to play Bentley this weekend, so we're certainly still within striking distance in the league," Cavanaugh said. "It's certainly viable that we have a chance to still win the regular season title, but the most important thing is that we put ourselves in the best position we can to win the playoff championship."
UConn will do battle on Friday night with a second-place Bentley (13-9-4, 11-4-4 AHA) team that currently holds a one point lead over the Huskies in the Atlantic Hockey standings, boasting 26 to the Huskies' 25. The Falcons also dealt UConn a 3-0 shutout loss in their last meeting on Nov. 15, their first conference defeat of the season.
"That last time we played them we played an unbelievable first period, we outshot them quite a bit in the first period and didn't come away with anything," Cavanaugh said. "And I think frustration crept into our game, and then killing penalties we did not do a good job. They scored two power play goals to start the third period, and we could never rebound from that."
This weekend's series is one that could either be won or lost on special teams, as each team boasts power play and penalty killing units ranked in the top three in Atlantic Hockey, with the Falcons ranking first in the conference in power play percentage and penalty kill percentage and second in power play goals.
"We'll certainly have to be excellent on special teams," Cavanaugh said. "Their powerplay has been excellent all year long. I think they're clicking at 27 percent [success rate], which is unheard of, so we've got to be able to play really well on special teams. Our power play's pretty good too, but we've got to do a great job on special teams."
Another key to the series for both teams will be goaltending, as both UConn and Bentley have benefited from excellent play between the pipes so far this season. Falcons' senior goaltender Branden Komm - who was stellar in his last outing against the Huskies, making 30 total saves in a shutout effort - ranks third in Atlantic Hockey in both goals against average (2.36) and save percentage (.927) ahead of UConn senior goaltender Matt Grogan, who ranks fourth in the conference in both categories.
"Their goaltender's very good. He played outstanding against us the last time we played them, and I think he's had a pretty solid year," Cavanaugh said. "But when you're the second place team, you're going to have good goaltending. It's something that every good team in our league has. I believe we have strong goaltending too, and that's why we're a point behind [Bentley] still."
When asked what it's going to take to win the weekend, Cavanaugh's answer was simple.
"It's going to be a team that doesn't turn the puck over the most, I think it's the team that wins special teams, and essentially the team that wins the puck battles will be the team that's the most successful," Cavanaugh said.
Puck drop for Friday night's game is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. at the Mark Edward Freitas Ice Forum.
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