Huskies Start Playoff Push with Merrimack Win
Feb. 11, 2015
By Erica Brancato
The UConn men’s hockey team continued its quest to host a Hockey East playoff series as they defeated Merrimack College 1-0 at the XL Center Tuesday night. The Huskies are now tied for seventh place in Hockey East with this weekend’s opponent, Northeastern.
UConn was solid from start to finish Tuesday night and was able to erase any thoughts of their tough 10-1 loss to Providence on Saturday. Head coach Mike Cavanaugh said the Huskies were able to come back and regroup to play a structurally sound hockey game against a strong opponent.
Throughout the first two periods, both teams remained scoreless despite plenty of chances. Though there were several opportunities for both teams, the Huskies and the Warriors rode tremendous nights by their respective goaltenders. UConn’s goaltender Rob Nichols got his third shut out at home this season, finishing with 32 saves.
It wasn’t until late in the third period when freshman Spencer Naas scored the game-winning goal on a diving backhand to deliver UConn a 1-0 win.
“When it gets late against two teams that don’t give up a lot of goals, one goal is huge,” Merrimack’s head coach Mark Dennehy said. “They are a really good defensive team so they are tough to beat when they get the lead, especially with six minutes left.”
Leading the Huskies with 12 goals, Naas racked up his fifth game-winning goal of the season. The UConn offense has gotten a boost from Naas since the holiday break. The rookie has produced nine goals in the last 14 games. He has given the Huskies a natural goal scorer, who has the knack for finding the back of the net.
“I’ve been able to be in the right place at the right time,” Naas said. “I’ve been the recipient of some really great plays by my line mates and teammates but I really like to play in the big situations. Those are the moments you think about as a little kid and you dream about kind of, to play on a big state and to play in a big moment. So I guess I like to play in those situations and I have been lucky enough to capitalize a few times this year.”
With five more games left in the regular season, UConn will enter the stretch run of the regular season with three home games in Hartford on the slate. The Huskies have played well in their new home venue this season, posting a 4-1-3 record at the XL Center.
The top four seeds in the final Hockey East standings will earn a first round bye in the upcoming playoffs. The four teams that finish in fifth through eight place will host best-of-three playoff series with the bottom four teams. If the Huskies can stay in the No. 5 through No. 8 spots in the conference, they would clinch a home series at the XL Center.
With talk of potentially getting home ice for the tournament, Cavanaugh said this extra pressure on the team is strictly “professional”. Professional pressure is fun and as a competitor it is this type of pressure that gets the team going, he said.
“Our kids love the fact that we are in Hockey East, we are in one of the best leagues in the country and we are battling for home ice,” he said. “That’s terrific. What else could you ask for? I think we love (the pressure) and relish the opportunity for our next game.”