BOSTON – Someone on the UConn men’s hockey team must have broken a mirror, walked under a ladder or crossed paths with a black cat, because no one was unluckier than the Huskies on Friday the 13th.
Deflection after deflection, rebound after rebound, it got worse for UConn with each passing minute Friday night, and there was almost nothing Rob Nichols could do about it.
Worse still, the Huskies got brutally outplayed.
It was one of those nights again for the Huskies at hockey’s oldest arena Friday. Their star goaltender was the victim of a series of unfortunate events at Matthews Arena as Hockey East’s newest Huskies fell to the Northeastern Huskies 9-0 in a battle of two teams tied for seventh place.
Northeastern goaltender Clay Witt improved to 9-6-2 on the season for the Huskies (13-11-4, 8-7-2 Hockey East) while recording his first shutout of the year. Witt is the first goaltender to blank UConn (9-14-7, 6-8-4) since Brown’s Tim Ernst held the Huskies scoreless in a 1-0 win for the Bears Nov. 29.
Zach Aston-Reese recorded a hat trick for Northeastern, and Anaheim Ducks draft pick Kevin Roy added four of his own. Most of their seven combined goals were on tips and rebounds, but there were no excuses for UConn. They were the inferior hockey team on the night.
“We just didn’t come out good enough. Flat out. Simple,” UConn captain Ryan Tyson said. “It’s really just unacceptable. We just need to be better on all accounts. That’s two games in a row on the road that we just got absolutely dominated, physically and everything.”
Aston-Reese wasted no time getting Northeastern in front. Colton Saucerman’s shot from the right point drew Nichols toward the center of the goal, allowing Aston-Reese to redirect it to the goalie’s stick-side post at the 2:48 mark of the first period.
The sophomore doubled up eight minutes later on a power play. This time, the shot came from the opposite end of the blue line. John Stevens threw the puck toward Nichols and Aston-Reese knocked it in.
After that, the scoring was rapid. Garret Cockerill turned and fired from the slot to beat Nichols at 12:38, exactly two minutes after the second goal. Roy scored his first on a snipe from the left face-off circle at 17:01. Mike Szmatula added a shorthanded goal at 19:32. It all seemed too familiar as UConn went into the first intermission down 5-0.
When the second period started, Nichols was in net. Had it not been for the 10-1 drubbing at Providence, from which Nichols was pulled, this may have been a surprise.
“I wanted him to fight through this one,” head coach Mike Cavanaugh said. “I think there’s times where you pull the goalie, but we just pulled him last week in a very similar game, so I wanted him to fight through and see if he could find his rhythm. And I think he was better in the second and third periods.”
Nichols was indeed better in the final 40 minutes, and the defense was better in front of him, too. After allowing 13 shots in the first period, Nichols only faced 18 the rest of the way.
That did not stop things from going horribly wrong for UConn.
Aston-Reese finished his hat trick at 10:01 in the second and Roy sealed the game with goals at 19:42 in the second and 4:50 and 12:16 in the third. But that was hardly the concern for the Huskies.
Nor were face-offs, a weakness of UConn’s in losses and a strength in wins. UConn won the face-off battle 40-26 Friday night. Normally, that means extra possession and a lot of zone time, but when a team is getting bullied and essentially beaten to a pulp, things get ugly. Chances do not present themselves and the puck goes in one net more than the other.
“We clearly didn’t finish checks well in the first period. We were just giving them too many good looks…and there was a lot of pucks around the net we didn’t pick up,” Cavanaugh said.
“We’re just getting bullied out there,” Tyson said. “I know we have tough guys in our locker room. It’s just being up and ready off that first drop of the puck, just getting on it. And we clearly weren’t tonight. It’s just really unacceptable.”
Tyson, like Cavanaugh and the rest of the Huskies, was clearly frustrated with the loss, especially after the way UConn got beaten at Providence a week ago. But like after that game, the Huskies need to forget about Friday and move on. There is no time to linger.
UConn has not played back-to-back days since Dec. 27 and 28 at the Frozen Holiday Classic in Bridgeport, where the Huskies beat Union before falling to UMass Lowell. This weekend marks the fourth time this year UConn plays back-to-back days and the first time the games are not played at the same arena both days.
The trip home will be used to put Friday’s game out of UConn’s memory. When the Huskies get on the bus at Freitas Ice Forum in Storrs Saturday morning to head to the XL Center – where UConn is 2-0-1 after losses away from Hartford – for a 3:35 p.m. puck drop against Northeastern, the focus will be entirely on the two points at stake Saturday. Two points which would help UConn jump back into a tie with the other Huskies.
“If we get tomorrow’s game and split the series, that’s really key for us down the stretch here,” Tyson said.