Preview: First meeting for UConn, MU
WHO: Connecticut Huskies (2-3-1) at Miami RedHawks (1-3).
WHEN: Friday, 7:35 p.m.; Saturday–7 p.m.
WHERE: Cady Arena, Oxford, Ohio.
NOTES: Strange that a pair of Division I teams in a tier of 60 have never met, but Friday will represent the inaugural contest between UConn and Miami.
The Huskies went Division I in 1998-99 and won 20 games that season, but they have not reached that high-water mark since. They have also never advanced to the NCAA Tournament.
Current coach Mike Cavanaugh took over prior to 2013-14 – UConn’s final season in the Atlantic Hockey before joining Hockey East – and after an 18-14-4 debut, his teams have not posted a winning record since.
Like Miami, the Huskies split with Maine. After that season-opening series, they beat American International and lost to Sacred Heart then went 0-1-1 in a home-and-home with Boston University.
Connecticut has had no problem generating offense, averaging 3.3 goals and 35.3 shots per game.
F Alexandre Payusov was limited to two points in 15 games as a freshman, but he is 6-2-8 in six games to start 2017-18, leading all UConn forwards in goals and points.
Like Payusov, Karl El-Mir is from Montreal, and he has a pair of goals and four assists. Maxim Letunov, a second-round pick of San Jose, also has six points (1-5-6) and Kasperi Ojantakanen and Spencer Naas have recorded four points.
At defense, Johnny Austin has one goal and team highs in assists (8) and points (9) – his point total is tied for second among D-I blueliners – although the senior’s career high at UConn is 10 points last season.
Derek Pratt has a goal and three assists, and four NHL draftees – Miles Gendron (Ottawa), Philip Nyberg (Buffalo), Joseph Masonius (Pittsburgh) and David Drake (Philadelphia) also patrol the blue line for the Huskies.
The Huskies are outshooting opponents by nearly five shots per game, yet they have a goal differential of zero.
Which means UConn is not stopping the puck at a high enough clip. Starting goalie Adam Huska, a seventh-round New York Rangers pick in 2015, has a .905 save percentage and a 2.95 goals-against average.
Backup Tanner Creel was solid two years ago in relief but started against America International and allowed three goals on seven shots.
Like Miami, UConn is executing at a 33.3 percent rate on the power play, tied for fifth in the NCAA, but the Huskies are tied for 42nd with just a .722 penalty killing clip.
Connecticut has outscored its opponents in the final two periods but has struggled early, as it has netted just three goals while allowing 10 in the opening 20 minutes.
This series begins a crucial four-game homestand for Miami. These are extremely winnable games for the RedHawks, as are next week’s tilts against Colorado College.
If Miami is unable to thrive against these opponents, it could be a long season. UConn and CC were a combined 15 games under .500 in 2016-17.
The RedHawks are currently two games under .500, and the schedule gets a lot harder following these two series.