The Merrimack College men’s ice hockey team returns from its bye week and begins the home stretch of the regular season with a road trip to the University of Connecticut. Game time from the XL Center on Saturday is set for 5 p.m.
1. The home of the Whale
Merrimack travels to the XL Center on Saturday to face UConn. Of course, the XL Center is the former Hartford Civic Center, which was the former home of the Hartford Whalers before they left for Carolina, becoming the Carolina Hurricanes in 1997. The XL Center seats 14,750 for hockey and it’s also the home of the Hartford Wolf Pack of the AHL.
Outside of hockey, the XL Center has hosted WWE’s WrestleMania 11, the 1987 NHL All-Star Game, multiple NCAA basketball tournament regionals. The arena has also been a popular concert venue, hosting acts as big as Bruce Springsteen and Michael Jackson.
Merrimack traveled to Hartford yesterday, practicing at Wesleyan University en route to the city.
2. UConn and Merrimack will honor Lance Brady
Merrimack lost Lance Brady, its director of hockey operations, earlier this week when he died after a battle with cancer at the age of 48. Merrimack has been wearing helmet decals honoring Brady for the last few months. In addition, both teams will wear Brady’s name on their jerseys for Saturday’s game.
3. UConn’s winless streak snapped
The Huskies snapped a six-game winless streak with a 3-2 overtime win over Northeastern on Thursday night. That winless streak began on Jan. 12 at Merrimack, when the Warriors took a 5-2 victory at Lawler Arena.
Alexander Payusov scored the game-winner for the Huskies while Tomas Vomacka made 31 saves.
4. Merrimack is searching for a sweep
Merrimack will be looking to sweep the season series against UConn for the second straight season after a dominant 5-2 victory at home back in January. The Warriors’ last trip to the XL Center ended with a 3-2 overtime victory last January.
Merrimack and UConn will be meeting for the 36th time on Saturday with the Warriors holding a 27-3-5 edge in the series.
Before last year’s two-game sweep by the Warriors, five straight games and seven out of the last eight between Merrimack and UConn had gone to overtime, with both sides skating to ties in five of those games (including four straight).
Since the Huskies joined Hockey East in 2014, Merrimack is 4-1-5 against UConn and all but two of those 10 games have been decided by one goal or ended in a tie.
The goal that sent the game to overtime in six of the last 10 Merrimack-UConn games came in the last 90 seconds of regulation. Two of Merrimack’s four wins have been in overtime.
5. Tavernier leads all scorers against UConn
Merrimack junior Sami Tavernier has had the most success against the Huskies in his career with five points (1g, 4a) in five games.
In the crease, only senior Craig Pantano has faced UConn among Merrimack’s crop of goalies. He is undefeated in three tries, owning a 3-0-0 record with a 1.33 GAA and .944 SV%.
6. The game will be televised locally
If you’re in the Connecticut area, tomorrow’s game will be telecast on CW20. Joe D’Ambrosio will handle the play-by-play while Adam Giardino is on color. The game will also be streamed on Huskies All-Access at UConnHuskies.com.
7. UConn has one of the youngest rosters in the country
The Huskies have 12 freshmen on their roster this season, tied with UMass Lowell, Niagara and Quinnipiac for the most rookies in NCAA hockey this season. The Huskies are also the sixth youngest team on average in the NCAA this year at 20 years, 323 days.
UConn’s freshmen class includes four players who are NHL draft picks in Kale Howarth (Columbus, 2017), Tomas Vomacka (Nashville, 2017), Ruslan Iskhakov (New York Islanders, 2018), and Jachym Kondelik (Nashville, 2018).
8. Gresock and the juniors lead the scoring for Merrimack
Five of Merrimack’s top-seven scorers are juniors, but rookie Chase Gresock leads the way with a team-high 19 points and eight goals, with 10 of those points coming in the last seven games. He is followed on the scoresheet by juniors Tyler Irvine (6g, 11a), Johnathan Kovacevic (4g, 10a), Sami Tavernier (3g, 8a), Patrick Kramer (5g, 5a) and Logan Coomes (1g, 7a). Senior Derek Petti is also up to 10 points on the year (4g, 6a), while Kovacevic is the team’s top-scoring defenseman.
9. Quick look at the Huskies
Senior Karl El-Mir leads the Huskies’ offense, which ranks 52nd nationally (2.30), with 25 points while freshman Jáchym Kondelík has a team-high 20 assists and ranks second with 24 points overall. Junior Alexander Payusov’s 14 goals are most on the team. UConn averages 30.74 shots per game (22nd).
Junior Adam Huska has bared the brunt of the load in net and is 5-12-2 with a 3.25 GAA and a .899 SV%. Tomas Vomacka started against Northeastern on Thursday, earning the victory. The Huskies, as a team, own the 50th-best scoring defense nationwide (3.37). On special teams, UConn is 54th on the power play (14.3) and 50th on the penalty kill (76.6).
10. Merrimack is hosting a pre-game reception for fans
Fans traveling to Hartford for Saturday’s game can attend a free pre-game reception, hosted by Merrimack College. The event will be held from 3:30-5 p.m. at DISH Bar & Grill. Click here to register.