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Men's Hockey: UConn Falls to UMass in Back-and-Forth Game in Hartford

A goal with five minutes left lifted UMass past UConn in a close game at the XL Center.

Rob Nichols made 27 saves in the Huskies 4-2 loss to UMass Friday.
Rob Nichols made 27 saves in the Huskies 4-2 loss to UMass Friday.
Steve Quick/The UConn Blog

HARTFORD — UConn dominated against UMass Friday night, except when it came to putting the puck in the net.

The Huskies outshot the Minutemen 42-31. They won the face-off battle and had long stretches of zone time that wore UMass players out.

But the stat sheet from UConn's 4-2 loss to UMass Friday night shows a glaring negative: a lackluster performance on the power play.

"The story of the game was we went (0-for-6) on the power play," UConn coach Mike Cavanaugh said. "We had a lot of chances to score goals and we didn't. We're still trading too many chances. I think we're giving up too many chances, for my liking. We've got to be better defensively. I don't think we can win a lot of games if we're just going to trade chances with other teams."

UConn (3-5-0, 1-4-0 Hockey East) had ample opportunities on the power play, producing 11 shots with a man advantage. The Huskies are now 6-for-39 on the power play this season and 0-for-15 over the last three games, failing to score with the advantage since the 5-2 win over Boston University Oct. 27.

The Huskies' best chance on the power play came after Austin Plevy's go-ahead goal with 4:54 to play, UMass (5-2-1, 1-1-1) was forced to to kill one last penalty, a boarding call on Marc Hetnik with 3:08 remaining. UConn forced the puck deep and earned an offensive-zone face-off with 48 seconds left on the power play, desperate to find the tying goal.

Out of time, Cavanaugh opted to pull Rob Nichols for an extra skater, giving UConn a six-on-four advantage in the zone. Jesse Schwartz won the face-off for UConn, though he had to go to the ice to claim it, like a football player recovering an onside kick. The Huskies controlled the puck, kept possession and got the shot they wanted.

Maxim Letunov's effort was saved by UMass goaltender Nic Renyard, and when William Lagesson cleared it out of the zone, it rolled all the down into the empty net.

"You pull a goalie when you're five-on-five, you have to pull him any time under a minute and a half when you get it in their zone," Cavanaugh said. "So I said, 'Hey, we've got a great opportunity here, where we've got 48 seconds left on a power play. Let's pull the goalie.' We won the face-off, and it's the third time this year guys have iced the puck and it's gone in the net.

"I'd do it again. I think it's a great opportunity. We're trying to tie the game up. We're not trying to keep it close."

UMass scored 1:14 into the game when Ray Pigozzi blocked a shot from Johnny Austin and broke out on his own. After the way UConn got beat down by Notre Dame last week, that could have been deflating. But as the period went on, the Huskies became more dominant.

Things started to turn in the Huskies' favor during a seven-and-a-half-minute stretch without a whistle. The Huskies were able to sustain possession for long stretches in the offensive zone. On one shift, UMass coach John Micheletto could not get his five skaters off the ice for nearly two minutes.

"That sucks your energy out of the bench," Micheletto said. "It obviously puts those five guys in a bad spot for the next two rotations around. We weren't able to manage that little spot in the game to wrestle the momentum back onto our side as quickly as we normally like to."

The momentum UConn gained from that stretched turned into a goal with 3:14 left in the first period. Jesse Schwartz, who was a healthy scratch for Sunday's 8-2 loss to Notre Dame, lunged for a rebound after close calls from Patrick Kirtland and Shawn Pauly. The puck trickled away from Renyard, and Schwartz dove at it, pushing it into the net.

Schwartz and Spencer Naas both needed to step up for UConn today. Their exclusion from Sunday's game at the Barclays Center was a declaration from Cavanaugh that he expects more out of experienced players like them. Schwartz notched the goal, and Naas nearly found one, too. After review, however, the officials determined his shot did not cross the goal line.

Regardless, their performance was a bright spot for Cavanaugh Friday.

"I thought they were both excellent," Cavanaugh said. "They had great weeks of practice. There were stretches of that game where I thought we were dominating, but we just couldn't get a puck past the goaltender."

Early in the second period, Dominic Trento put UMass back in front before Karl El-Mir netted his first career goal for the Huskies. The freshman from Montreal whipped a backhanded effort toward net from the right face-off circle and squeaked it through traffic.

The series shifts to Amherst, Massachusetts Saturday night, where UConn will look to avoid being swept for the second time in three Hockey East series to begin the season. UConn will try to take the bright spots from Friday's game and build on them for Saturday. While no one will be satisfied with the result, one Cavanaugh called disappointing, UConn did show an elevated level of play from Sunday's nightmare in Brooklyn.

"Our effort was there," sophomore alternate captain Derek Pratt said. "We were happy with that coming off Sunday. We gave up an early one, but we kept coming. In terms of that, we had a lot of chances, so we were happy with that."