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First Round Preview: UConn trying to avoid mistakes of the past

The Huskies have been in this situation before, and it didn't go well.

Photo: Ian Bethune

How to watch

Date: Wednesday, Mar. 13

Time: 7 p.m. ET

Location: Toscano Family Ice Forum, Storrs, CT

Stream: ESPN+

Vermont Catamounts

Record: 13-18-3 (7-14-3 Hockey East)

Location: Burlington, Vermont

Head coach: Steve Wiedler (first season)

Seed: 9th

UConn trying to avoid mistakes of the past

History is repeating itself for UConn men’s hockey. At the end of the 2020-21 season, the Huskies played Providence in the regular season finale where the winner would host the loser in the quarterfinals of the Hockey East Playoffs.

UConn dominated with a 5-3 win that wasn’t as close as the scoreline indicated. The Huskies jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first period, pushed it to 5-0 just 24 seconds into the second, and survived a late rally from the Friars to secure their highest finish ever in Hockey East.

One week later, Providence returned to Freitas Ice Forum and dominated UConn 6-1 in the quarterfinals. Just like that, the Huskies’ season came to a screeching halt.

This year, UConn faced Vermont in a nearly identical situation in the regular season finale: The winner would host the loser in the first round of the playoffs. Again, the Huskies won in blowout fashion: 5-1. Now, they’ll play the Catamounts on Wednesday and try to avoid the same fate as the 2020-21 squad did.

“We know that last Thursday's game bears zero implications on tomorrow night's game,” head coach Mike Cavanaugh said. “Playoffs are a completely different animal than the regular season and we expect a much tougher game tomorrow (than Thursday).”

It helps that the loss to Providence wasn’t too long ago. UConn’s seniors — Hudson Schandor, John Spetz, Jake Flynn, and Harrison Rees — were all on the team that season, so they should help their teammates avoid making their past mistakes.

“Maybe we were a little overconfident,” Cavanaugh admitted about the team’s mindset entering that quarterfinal game three years ago.

While the Huskies handled Vermont without much trouble last week, that probably won’t happen again on Wednesday. It’s one thing to play for home ice one more time. It’s another to keep the season going.

“Jerry York used to always refer to it as ‘You gotta take someone's sticks away,’” Cavanaugh said. “When you're going to take someone's sticks away, there's a lot of intensity in that game.”

UConn also has to figure out a way to win the game, full stop.

For most of the season, the Huskies have struggled to get results despite feeling good about their performances. That happened most recently in the penultimate regular season contest when they hosted Northeastern in Storrs. UConn put together one of its better efforts of the second half — and still lost 4-2.

Nothing else matters in the postseason except winning.

“When you get to this time of year, it’s survive and advance. You have to find a way,” Cavanaugh said. “We can sit here all we want and say ‘Oh, we out-shot them 2-1’ or ‘We played really well, but we couldn't find a way to score.’ That doesn't really cut it because if that's the case, you're going home.”

The Huskies are all too familiar with that scenario, too. Just last year in the quarterfinals, they out-shot UMass Lowell 41-17 — allowing just five shots over the final two periods — but went down 2-1.

So if UConn is to advance in the Hockey East Playoffs for just the second time ever, it’ll need to avoid making the same mistakes from its past.

Playoff history

UConn and UVM have faced off one time in the postseason. In 2016, the Huskies hosted the Catamounts at the XL Center for their first-ever home games in the Hockey East Playoffs. In a best-of-three series, Vermont won both games by a single goal: 2-1 in the first and 4-3 in the second.

Injury report

UConn should have everyone available for Wednesday’s game.

By the numbers

4 — Wednesday will be the fourth postseason game hosted at Toscano Family Ice Forum this season. UConn women’s hockey won its three games in the Hockey East Tournament at the rink.

8 — UConn finished eighth in the Hockey East standings, its lowest position since being ninth back in 2018-19.

7 — Seven seasons have passed since the Huskies last played in the first round of the playoffs. That came in 2017.

5 — Matthew Wood has five goals in his last three games and is up to 13 on the season. That’s both a team and career-high.