The UConn men’s hockey team returned to its Atlantic Hockey slate this weekend after a non-conference win over No. 9 Providence last Tuesday, splitting a home-and-home with Holy Cross with a 3-1 loss on Friday and a 5-0 win on Saturday.
After challenging the Crusaders (9-18-3, 8-12-3 AHA) at both ends of the ice early on in the first period on Friday night, the Huskies (16-10-4, 13-7-3 AHA) found themselves in a 1-0 hole just under 15 minutes into the initial stanza after Holy Cross capitalized on a two-on-two opportunity on the rush.
“I thought we had a good first period,” head coach Mike Cavanaugh said. “The goal they scored, we had a lot of riding time in their zone–it was kind of a two-on-two play–and the guy on the outside, actually, I think, fanned on the shot, and our defenseman Kyle Huson went to get the pass, it fooled them, and it went to their guy in front of the net, he knocked it in.”
Despite being down by only one goal coming out of the first intermission, UConn fared even worse in the second period than it did in the first, and was outshot 16-5 by Holy Cross–who lit the lamp once again at the 17:21 mark to take a convincing 2-0 lead.
“The second period we just got totally outplayed,” Cavanaugh said. “They outworked us, on faceoffs, every facet of the game we got outplayed, and we were fortunate just to be down by two goals.”
UConn showed its first sign of offensive life 40 seconds into the third period. Senior forward Brant Harris–capitalizing on a neutral-zone turnover created by sophomore defenseman Tyler Cooke–received a pass from junior winger Trevor Gerling and snapped home a shot high to the blocker side of Holy Cross goaltender Derek Kump, cutting the Crusader lead to one.
Harris’ goal, however, proved incapable of sparking a comeback, as Holy Cross was able to extinguish the Huskies’ early-period momentum and hold UConn scoreless for the remainder of the period.
The Crusaders locked up the win and the two points by scoring an empty-net goal with 30 seconds remaining in regulation, defeating the Huskies for the first time since Feb. 15, 2013.
“We came out in the third and I thought it was a great goal on the first shift, and I thought that was a pretty even period,” Cavanaugh said. “They hit a pipe, we hit a pipe, we just weren’t able to get that second goal.”
Cavanaugh said the Huskies’ play in the second period was a turning point in the game, and UConn can’t afford to have similar single-period performances in its four remaining regular season games if it expects to compete for the Atlantic Hockey title.
“When you’re down the stretch run and you’re playing for a league title, you can’t have those second periods,” Cavanaugh said. “You can have a period where you don’t particularly maybe play great, but at least shots are maybe 8-7 or 12-9, but not to the point where it’s 16-5, and that was total domination by Holy Cross, they played extremely well. And in turn, they deserved to win the game.”
Senior goaltender Matt Grogan–who got the starting nod after making a record 58 saves in UConn’s upset win over the Friars–finished the night with 31 saves on 33 shots.
After being dominated by the Crusaders on Friday night, the Huskies responded with a little domination of their own on Saturday, defeating Holy Cross in a 5-0 road rout in which senior forward Jordan Sims became the second UConn player this season to reach the 100 career point plateau.
UConn got out to a quick start in Saturday’s first period, scoring goals at the 7:44 and 14:33 marks. Junior forward Cody Sharib got the Huskies on the board first, scoring his third of the season with assists from Gerling and freshman defenseman Joona Kunnas.
Sophomore wing Joey Ferriss followed up Sharib’s marker with one of his own later in the period, extending the UConn lead to two goals on the milestone assist from Sims and another from junior centerman Ryan Tyson.
UConn continued to steamroll through the Holy Cross defense well into the second period, adding two more goals to extend its lead to 4-0. Junior blueliner Jacob Poe scored his fourth of the season on the powerplay 45 seconds into the period, while freshman center Brent Norris chipped in his sixth of the season at the 17:26 mark.
UConn added its fifth and final goal in the latter half of the third period, with Ferriss scoring his second of the game just over 13 minutes into the period, cementing the Huskies’ blowout victory.
Freshman goaltender Robby Nichols posted another terrific start in what’s shaping up to be an outstanding rookie campaign, stopping 38 shots en route to his second shutout of the year and improving his record to 6-1-2 on the season.
The Huskies return to action this Friday against Army in the first game of another Atlantic Hockey home-and-home. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. at the Freitas Ice Forum.