CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. – Friday night, the eve of Mike Cavanaugh’s return to Conte Forum, a UConn basketball legend spoke to the men’s hockey team.
Dee Rowe told the Huskies to "love each other like a family, dare to compete and play inspired hockey" when they took the ice against No. 19 Boston College.
"And I think our kids did," Cavanaugh said. "I think Dee Rowe would have been proud of our effort tonight. I was proud of our effort."
The Huskies fought from start to finish Saturday night, scoring twice against the balance of play. But UConn’s bid to sweep the season series with the Eagles fell short, as Ryan Fitzgerald’s hat trick gave Boston College the 3-2 win.
BC (15-8-2, 8-5-2 Hockey East) outshot the Huskies (7-12-5, 4-6-2 Hockey East) 37-21, the result of a constant attack against Rob Nichols’ goal from the opening face-off.
The shot count was not far off from the 35-22 advantage the Eagles had on Nov. 5, when UConn pulled the 1-0 upset of the then-No. 5 Eagles in their first Hockey East home game.
At first, the game had the makings of a perfect recreation of the first meeting. Boston College dominated the offensive zone early in the first period, only to fall behind on a well-worked power play.
Matthew Gaudreau, who had missed putting BC ahead by inches minutes before, was sent to the box for high sticking nine minutes in. The Huskies put two shots on net before Ryan Segalla beat Eagles goaltender Thatcher Demko with a powerful shot from above the right face-off circle. It was the second goal of the year for the Pittsburgh Penguins draft pick and the 12th power play goal for UConn.
That was the Huskies’ only good effort on the power play. UConn got one shot on three power plays the rest of the game.
"We moved the puck, and when we got shots to the net, our forwards retrieved the puck," Segalla said. "That’s huge because if you don’t retrieve the puck it gets sent down to your own end.
"On that goal, our forwards made a great play. They moved it back to us D, and we had the easy job of just getting it to the net."
BC went back to controlling the offensive play after Segalla’s goal, but Nichols and the Huskies stood strong against a team that is now 8-1-2 since the start of December.
But with less than four minutes to play in the second period, play picked up at both ends of the ice.
Fitzgerald tied the game for BC at the 16:40 mark. After skating beyond the end line, he reached back and was able to push the puck past Nichols, who had moved to cut him off.
Off the ensuing face-off, UConn gained the zone, and a shot from Brent Norris deflected off Demko right into the path of Joona Kunnas, a defenseman playing left wing who notched his second goal of the season on the rebound.
Normally lined up on the blue line, Kunnas’ move to left wing was not unusual – Cavanaugh has played Kunnas, Segalla and Johnny Austin at forward this season – but it was necessitated by injuries to Corey Ronan (shoulder), Jesse Schwartz (shoulder) and Jeff Wight (concussion), whose absences resulted in shakeups across three of the four lines.
Cavanaugh said the shakeups, which included Kunnas playing with Norris and Joey Ferriss (who do not normally line up together), did not have an impact. Some players, however, stepped up more than others.
"Joona Kunnas might have been our best forward tonight," Cavanaugh said. "He was terrific."
BC tied the game up two minutes later, when Fitzgerald buried a one-timer on a pass from Austin Cangelosi. Nichols had a line on it, but the puck deflected off Kasperi Ojantakanen in front.
Fitzgerald completed the hat trick on a power play eight minutes into the third period, firing a beautiful shot from the right face-off dot that snuck right underneath the crossbar and over Nichols’ shoulder.
"He must have made a really nifty tuck," Nichols said. "I didn’t see it, but it was behind me. I kind of got out of position there."
Despite the glaring difference in shots, UConn continued to fight down the stretch, trying to create opportunities however it could.
With 1:25 to play, Nichols went to the bench and Kunnas hopped on the ice as the extra skater. UConn attacked the BC net with a flurry of close chances, and the puck trickled into the slot for Kunnas. It looked like the Fin had a line on his second goal of the night, but Demko rose to the occasion, making an incredible glove stop that saved the Eagles.
"We battled hard," Kunnas said. "A couple things, we should create a little more offense and get pucks to the net. But we battled hard."