This Week in Hockey East: UConn boasting positive mindset where ‘we think if we’re going into a game, we’re winning’

UConn’s Carter Turnbull has compiled eight goals and 12 points over 17 games this season for the Huskies (photo: Stephen Slade).

Connecticut junior Carter Turnbull doesn’t think there was ever a dramatic shift.

Instead, Turnbull, one of 10 upperclassmen with the Huskies, thinks there was a culture shift from the moment he began at UConn, a process that’s led them to where they are now, being ranked for the first time in program history.

“We have a pretty old core,” said Turnbull. “Even though we only have four letters, I think we have 10 guys who could be captain of this team. We got a ton of leaders on this team and that for sure helps the younger guys who look up to us.”

UConn received its ranking before dropping a Tuesday night overtime contest to UMass Lowell. The Huskies had been coming off three consecutive wins, including two over Merrimack where they posted six goals each time.

Tuesday night games — or any week night, really — are an adjustment for not only young players, but college hockey vets who have been around before Covid put a damper on the season and sport.

It’s not an excuse, but it certainly impacts the way teams prepare before a game.

In some ways, that can help and up-and-coming program like UConn focus on itself, distraction free.

“It’s weird not knowing who you’re going to play the following week,” said Turnbull. “At the same time, you put a game in front of us and we’re gonna play it and we’re always ready. None of these teams are too surprising, but if you’re not thinking about who you’re playing you can just focus on practice.

“That has a little bit of a benefit.”

Now 6-3-1 in their last 10 games, the Huskies have found some sort of groove in a season where it’s tough to have any momentum day to day. The rankings — at 20 in the USCHO poll and 15 in the USA Today poll — are just benchmarks, and everything’s tough to get a gauge on with some teams sitting out and others with heavy schedules.

It’s been a good lesson for the young Huskies to internalize their own play and keep that focus, and a mantra the upperclassmen have adopted as their message.

“Freshman year we had a tough year,” said Turnbull. “Then last year at the end of the year we were just winning games and coming into this year we put forth like, we’re not just going to put an effort in and that’s it, we expect to win every night. I think the culture has changed from freshman year.”

Sophomores Vladislav Firstov and Yan Kuznetsov have been on a tear since returning from World Juniors, which forced them to miss seven games earlier on the slate. Since they returned, the offense has kicked up a notch, with juniors like Turnbull and Jonny Evans carving out roles as elite scorers.

Evans in particular leads Hockey East in scoring and is second in the nation with 12 goals. He and Turnbull, serving as leadership off the ice, are doing the work in the ice to keep focus for the younger players as well.

One loss to the River Hawks isn’t a huge concern to strip away momentum in a momentum-less year. The Huskies, like everyone else, have to generate that on their own with so much uncertainty.

Perhaps that makes single-loss weeknights less of a big deal when you have no clue who or if you’re playing over the weekend. Maybe that’s part of the mindset the Huskies needed to find their own identity, independent of whatever is happening around them.

The Huskies will play a home-and-home series with Providence this weekend, another test on short rest following the Tuesday overtime contest.

It’s just another challenge UConn is excited to answer.

“We think if we’re going into a game, we’re winning,” said Turnbull. “That’s the only mindset we have. I think that’s spread through the team; we think we’re winning.”

Good week to BU

Making a college hockey debut is enough pressure, now imagine doing it in the middle of the Battle of Comm Ave.

Vinny Duplessis did just that on Saturday night, earning a 3-1 win for Boston University with 40 saves against Boston College.

The rival squads split the weekend, with BC taking Friday’s game in overtime and the freshman Duplessis — who was named the Hockey East rookie of the week — stopping double digit shots from the Eagles in each period to take the Saturday win.

The 21-year-old stepped in with the Terriers missing Drew Commesso in net — also, Logan Cockerill and David Farrance were out — to topple the No. 1 ranked team.

“He’s a 21-year old freshman. He’s had to carry a team to the playoffs,” said BU coach Albie O’Connell to reporters on Saturday night. “He’s been in some pressure situations. He probably had some good nights and bad nights on the bus. Just the way he skated out to start the game, he was like sprinting, it was very reassuring. I thought, ‘This kid seems like he’s got it.’ That was a good sign. He’s confident. He wants to compete for the job. He had a great week of practice.”

Playoff format announced

Hockey East announced a single-elimination format for both the men’s and women’s postseason tournaments on Wednesday.

Each game will be hosted at the arena of the higher-seeded team, and the seeding will come via a mathematical formula the conference is calling the Hockey East Power Index.

“The 2020-21 season has presented new challenges each day and Hockey East has done everything in our power to ensure a safe and fulfilling experience for our student-athletes in this difficult year,” said Hockey East commissioner Steve Metcalf in a press release. “Inviting all teams into the Hockey East tournament and using the Hockey East Power Index to seed each program respects the importance and integrity of each regular-season game. Ultimately, our goal is to provide the best experience possible for our student-athletes.”

The men’s format will begin with contests between seeds 6-11 on Wednesday, March 10. Seeds 1-5 automatically qualify for the quarterfinals, which will begin on March 14.

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