HARTFORD – Northeastern put the hurt on UConn again Saturday afternoon, rolling into the XL Center and putting a 6-1 beat down on the home team, but the score was not as indicative of UConn’s performance as Friday’s 9-0 drubbing.
“I thought it was a much different game than it was last night,” head coach Mike Cavanaugh said. “I didn’t think it was a contest last night. Tonight, for at least 35 minutes, I thought we competed pretty hard.”
Few teams are playing hockey as well as the Northeastern Huskies at the moment. Sporting a 9-1-3 record in 2015, Northeastern (14-11-4, 8-7-2 Hockey East) has pulled a complete 180 since starting the season 1-9-1.
One of the keys to Northeastern’s success is Anaheim Ducks prospect Kevin Roy, who scored four goals Friday night at Matthews Arena and registered three assists Saturday.
Roy showed off the flair Saturday. After bullying the puck away from a UConn skater in the corner, Roy flew past another and gained the zone, starting a three-man weave that ended with the puck in the back of the net off the stick of Adam Reid to make it 5-1 Northeastern with 17 minutes to play
“Not only does he shoot the puck really well – and he’s very accurate – but he competes for pucks down low,” Cavanaugh said. “He’s an extremely good hockey player, and he’s – at times – tonight, he was a lot for us to handle. Actually, all weekend long.”
Before Roy started to take over, UConn was on the verge of a comeback. Down 2-0 after Torin Syndeman’s goal 2:45 into the second period, momentum started to shift. The hometown Huskies started to create chances, and they capitalized three minutes after Syndeman’s goal when Shawn Pauly buried a pass from Corey Ronan past Roy’s brother, Derick.
Pauly’s goal lifted the 5,086 fans in attendance and brought the XL Center to life. The chances kept coming, and the tie seemed within UConn’s grasp. With 11 minutes gone in the second period, Patrick Kirtland charged out of the penalty box, jumped on puck, gained the zone and tried to create a chance for captain Ryan Tyson, but Derick parried it away.
The crowd was ready to erupt, and if Kirtland had been able to set Tyson up, the game could have changed entirely.
“Tyson was going to the net. I was just trying to shoot for a rebound, and if he would have put that in, obviously that would have turned things around, I think,” Kirtland said.
Instead, Northeastern started to regain control.
With a 2-1 lead and less than five minutes to play in the second, the visiting Huskies gained control of the puck in a scrum along the corner boards. Kevin was able to push the puck to Mike McMurtry, who found Dalen Hedges moving toward the net. Hedges was able to lift the puck past goaltender Rob Nichols for his eighth goal of the season.
Two minutes later, Brendan Collier found Reid crashing to the net unmarked and fed him for the easy finish. At that point, with Northeastern heading into the second intermission up 4-1, the result seemed clear.
“We got puck watching,” Cavanaugh said of the fourth goal. “One, we gave their guy way too much space. We played it like it was a penalty kill. We gave him too much time and space, and the other guys – we worked hard to get back, but then we just watched the guy with the puck and didn’t pick up guys around us.”
Reid finished the three-man weave Kevin set up with a beautiful finish three minutes into the third, and Syndeman added a second late in garbage time to seal the largest win by a UConn opponent at the XL Center. The sample size, of course, is small. Boston University, winners of a 5-2 contest Nov. 22, are the only other team to beat UConn in Hartford.
The stat that pops off the box score from Saturday’s game is the amount of shots UConn blocked. UConn entered the game ranked first in Hockey East and second in the nation with 16.13 blocks per game. They finished with seven.
It seemed like blocking shots could be a focus Saturday. Most of Northeastern’s goals Friday night were created from the blue line.
Cavanaugh said that blocks were not a talking point before the game, and it mattered little, anyway. Northeastern found a different way to win Saturday.
“It seemed like a lot of their offense generated from down low. It wasn’t defensive driven. So that might have been one of the reasons why (fewer shots were blocked),” Cavanaugh said.
The latest weekend of Hockey East action shook up the standings quite a bit, especially in the battle for home ice. UConn’s failure to secure a point against Northeastern comes with the punishment of being tied with Maine, who swept Merrimack this weekend, for eighth place, the final spot.
For now, UConn holds the tiebreaker after taking three out of four points from the Black Bears, but Maine has a game in hand, which could be trouble for the Huskies, who still have a lot to say about their own fate.
Three games remain before the conference tournament. UConn plays a home-and-home series with New Hampshire, whose win over Boston University Saturday was a bright spot in an otherwise bleak season, next weekend before closing out at home against UMass.
“We still control our own destiny, I believe,” Cavanaugh said. “We have six possible points, and we’re going to have to put this weekend behind us. We’re going to take a day off (Sunday), regroup and come back Monday. And we’ll work hard.
“You can’t let one weekend define your season. Clearly we’re not on top of our game this weekend, and we have to find a way to get back to playing the Husky hockey that’s made us, kept us very competitive this season.”