HARTFORD — Patrick Kirtland has been part of a few major losing skids in his UConn career.
There were a couple of winless skids in 2012-13, Kirtland's freshman season. The Huskies fought and clawed their way back into the Atlantic Hockey conversation. In 2014-15, UConn closed the regular season with a brutal stretch of blowout losses against Providence, Northeastern and New Hampshire.
After taking a 2-0 lead on No. 3 Quinnipiac Tuesday night, the Huskies allowed six unanswered goals. As the Bobcats extended their winning streak to a program-best 11 games, UConn's losing streak was extended to seven.
Kirtland remembers the way UConn's past captains—such as former teammates Sean Ambrosie, Alex Gerke, Billy Latta and Ryan Tyson—handled adversity. That experience will help the Rocky Hill native as he tries to get his team back on track.
"They were just trying to stay positive, just like I'm trying to do," Kirtland said. "We even went though (a cold streak) last year, and that's what Tyson was doing. I'm just trying to learn from those guys and keep everybody positive, which I know is tough, obviously, losing seven in a row. As a leader, I think that's what I have to do and just get out of this."
Everything has gone wrong for the Huskies since defeating then-No. 8 Boston University Oct. 27. UConn cruised past the Terriers that night, winning 5-2 after a competitive game in Boston three days earlier.
Tuesday night looked like the night it was all going to change. UConn came out and took the lead just over a minute into the game on a power play goal by Joe Masonius. Max Kalter added another 10 minutes later, and it looked like UConn was flying high.
Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold made an alteration that didn't help the Huskies, replacing back-up goaltender Sean Lawrence with regular starter Michael Garteig, who was supposed to get the day off, in the second period. But UConn did itself in.
UConn was forced onto the penalty kill early in the second period, which lead to a second power play goal for Quinnipiac's Sam Anas. Another goal followed 13 seconds later, and the Huskies let emotions get the best of them.
"We got out to a great start and probably got under their skin a bit and upset them," UConn coach Mike Cavanaugh said. "Then when they get the two power play goals – hey, we've got a pretty frustrated group right now, you know? That's our seventh straight loss. We've got a frustrated team. Instead of just building off, 'Hey, let's get back to playing the way we did in the first period,' we got frustrated, and that got the best of us."
Everything fell apart when Evan Richardson made one of the most boneheaded plays a hockey player—especially an upperclassman—can make. Richardson blatantly held a Quinnipiac player along the boards. As the referee blew the whistle, Richardson released the player, only to cross-check him in the head and send him into the walls behind the boards. The entire sequence earned Richardson 17 minutes in penalties: a two-minute holding minor, a five-minute major for cross-checking and 10 minutes for a game misconduct.
The ensuing seven-minute power play resulted in two goals for Quinnipiac, to increase its lead to 5-2. UConn spent 13 minutes of the second period with a player in the penalty box.
"We've got to be disciplined," Cavanaugh said. "There was a big melee after the third goal, and the referees warned both benches, and they said, 'Hey, we don't want anymore garbage.' Evan cross-checked the kid after he had the penalty. It was clear as day. I'm not mad at the referee. I'm upset that we lost our composure."
Frustration is clearly high, but Kirtland will try to keep his team focused and composed. UConn has the weekend off before a visit from No. 2 Boston College. The rest of the 2015 schedule is difficult, with BC, Merrimack and two games against UMass Lowell on the calendar. Three of those games are at home, and UConn has a chance to earn a couple big wins.
Not only that, there are important Hockey East implications on the line in those four games.
"I know we're in a whack right now, but we're going to get out of it," Kirtland said. "We've got a tough bunch of guys in that room, so we're going to keep chipping away."