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UMass hockey feeling confident heading into duo against UConn

(Caroline O’Connor/ Daily Collegian)

The Massachusetts hockey team faces its fourth Hockey East Association opponent of the season this upcoming weekend as it welcomes Connecticut Friday night, before traveling to Hartford next Tuesday.

UMass (7-6-0, 2-3-0 HEA) swept Quinnipiac last weekend, traveling to Hamden and winning 2-1 Nov. 24 before finishing the Bobcats off 6-3 in front of the Mullins Center faithful the next night.

A season-high six-goal performance Nov. 25 anchored the Minutemen to their first series sweep of the season and first since 2015-16 when they swept Connecticut Nov. 6-7.

“We’ve been very consistent all year,” UMass coach Greg Carvel said. “These guys are creating an identity for themselves and consistency is a big part of that.”

Niko Rufo completed his first collegiate hat trick against Quinnipiac, joining Oliver Chau as co-leading goal scorers with six goals each. Chau registered three points in the Quinnipiac series, helping him to remain the Minutemen point-leader with 13.

The Huskies (6-10-2, 4-6-1 HEA) enter the matchup hot after defeating No. 12 Northeastern in a 4-1 battle at the XL Center Tuesday night. Averaging 2.56 goals per game and having netted 46 goals this season, UConn will be a confident bunch Friday despite a lowly record.

“My biggest concern is that we don’t give the same amount of respect to every one of our opponents,” Carvel said. “We’ve played a lot of really good teams lately, and there’s no easy games.

“UConn looks like they’re really tough to play against, and when you come to the end of the semester, and you’ve got three games left, my concern is just making sure we stay at a good level and carry it out through the last three games.”

Chau recognizes the threat the Huskies present, winners of three straight, and echoed Carvel’s sentiment of not overlooking the competition..

“Coach said they work hard, and they have a good track record,” Chau said. “I don’t think their record shows how strong of a team they are so we have to be ready.”

Maxim Letunov, drafted 52nd overall in the second round of the 2014 NHL Draft by the San Jose Sharks, leads UConn with 13 points (three goals, 10 assists) through 18 games. Freshman Alexander Payusov has a team-leading seven goals, four of which he capitalized on during the man-advantage.

Ryan Wischow was named Hockey East Player of the Week on Monday, making him the first UMass netminder to receive the Player of the Week honor since Jonathan Quick in 2007. His season-high 47 saves in the 6-3 Quinnipiac victory completed a 79-save weekend performance for the sophomore.

“Ryan’s grinded his way to this level,” Carvel said. “I’ve got two goalies who are ‘you have to tear the net away from me’ and if one guy starts to fade a little bit, you know that the next guy is just chomping to get in there.”

Huskie goaltender Adam Huska was drafted 184th overall in the seventh round of the 2015 NHL Draft by the New York Rangers. The sophomore has started between the pipes in 16 of the 18 games this season and has racked up a .915 save percentage.

“I think it’ll be a good challenge moving forward,” Chau said. “We’ve been a .500 team up until now and getting to 8-6 would be nice.”

Puck is set to drop 7 p.m. on Friday following a 7:05 p.m. start Tuesday.

Mollie Walker can be reached at molliewalker@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @MWalker2019.

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