Across the sheet: Q&A with Daniel Connolly of The UConn Blog

UMass hockey hosts UConn Friday

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Caroline O’Connor/Collegian

By Ryan Ames, Assistant Sports Editor

The Massachusetts hockey team has just one game on the docket this week – a Friday night clash versus Connecticut at the Mullins Center.

Ahead of this week’s encounter between No. 3 UMass (11-1-0, 6-0-0 Hockey East Association) and UConn (5-8-1, 2-6-1 HEA), I talked with Daniel Connolly, an editor for The UConn Blog, about the Huskies and their season so far:

Ryan Ames: UConn has lost four straight games. What do you think has hurt the Huskies during this losing stretch?

Daniel Connolly: UConn’s lost six of their last seven dating back to their series at Vermont, so they’re definitely on a downward trend. There’s been two common themes in the losses: the first is collapsing late in games. Against Vermont, they led to the very end before giving up the game-tying goal that sent the game into overtime with 12.3 seconds left and lost it in OT with .5 seconds left. The next weekend against Northeastern, they lost the game in the final period.

They’ve also had trouble bouncing back after a loss. Against UMass Lowell, they outplayed the River Hawks in the first game at the XL Center but still lost and followed it up by getting blown out 3-0 on the road. This past weekend in Northern Ireland, they lost a tight battle with BU before falling apart against Yale.

They’re a really young team and they struggle with consistency. Sometimes they can look like an elite team but will follow it up by struggling against the likes of Brown for stretches. We’ve yet to see a consistent 60-minute effort this season.

RA: In 14 games UConn has surrendered 41 goals, the second most in Hockey East.  Is that more of a reflection on the defense or the goaltending, in your opinion?

DC: I’ll say defense, but the goaltending hasn’t been perfect either. There’s been plenty of goals this season where the defense can’t clear a puck from in front of net and get burned for it. They’ve also had a few fluky goals that take weird bounces and find the net.

The goaltending has let in some soft goals too. UConn’s top option is junior Adam Huska and the backup is freshman Tomas Vomacka. Both have played well but are prone to mistakes.

RA: Alexander Payusov, Jachym Kondelik and Karl El-Mir are the top three-point producers. How much do the Huskies rely on those three for offense?

DC: They’re all valuable but I think Payusov and El-Mir are definitely on a different tier than Kondelik. The former are two veterans whereas Kondelik is a (albeit talented) freshman. They’re certainly important, but it doesn’t feel like they carry the offense. A lot of times, El-Mir ends up in good spots. Freshmen like Ruslan Iskhakov and Marc Gatcomb have both impressed as well but haven’t produced the points to this point.

RA: UConn has played 10 of its 14 games away from the XL Center, including two games in Ireland for the 2018 Friendship Four. Do you think that has impacted the slow start in any way?

DC: I think it certainly has some impact, but it’s not like they’ve been dominant at the XL Center either with a 2-1-1 record. Having more home games down the stretch will be a bigger advantage than this is a disadvantage, especially if the team starts to gel more and the freshmen get more consistent.

RA: UMass and UConn meet for the first of three games this season, Friday at the Mullins Center. Any thoughts on how that game shakes out?

DC: With the way UConn is playing and the fact that UMass is No. 1 in Pairwise, I can’t see UConn winning this game, especially on the road. I bet it stays close on the scoreboard through two periods with UMass dominating the game before they finally blow the game open in the final period for a final score of 5-1 Minutemen.

Ryan Ames can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @_RyanAmes.