HARTFORD – UConn could not scoreboard watch Friday night. It had to take care of its own business.
They did not get the help, but the Huskies did their job emphatically.
Desperately needing a win on top of help from Providence and Merrimack, UConn put an exclamation point on the end of its first season in Hockey East, dominating UMass in a 4-0 win Friday at the XL Center.
The Huskies (10-17-7, 7-11-4) did what they needed to do, but while Providence made easy work of Maine, New Hampshire beat Merrimack 4-1 in Durham.
Because UConn needed both Maine and New Hampshire to get swept this weekend, the Huskies will be forced onto the road for the first round of the Hockey East tournament.
UConn will go on the road in the first round, but it will go in on the back of its best offensive performance since a 6-3 win at Army Jan. 9.
“It was great,” said junior forward Shawn Pauly, who netted the Huskies’ opening goal. “Obviously when you can contribute and help our team win, there’s no better feeling in the world. But to come through with four goals for our team was a big deal.”
About nine minutes into the game, UMass turned the puck over near the neutral zone. Pauly took a pass from Trevor Gerling and buried an effort on the doorstep past UMass goaltender Steve Mastalerz.
The Huskies have been generating a lot of turnovers early in games but have been unable to capitalize. Pauly’s was one of multiple goals off turnovers Friday, a necessary fix in UConn’s offense.
“I said scoring goals – you have to have a confidence that the puck is always going to go in,” head coach Mike Cavanaugh said. “It’s just like the great putters always believe they’re always going to put the ball in the hole. They never think they’re going to miss. I think you have to do the same thing in hockey.”
The Huskies’ doubled up five minutes later on a nifty one-timer from Patrick Kirtland. Corey Ronan won the puck along the boards and dished the puck to a wide-open Kirtland, who buried the effort to Mastalerz’s stick side from the slot.
Seven minutes into the second period, UConn ran Mastalerz from the game. Gerling latched on to another Minutemen turnover in the neutral zone and took it all the way, throwing a backhanded effort off the back of Mastalerz into the net.
Mastalerz’s replacement, Henry Dill, fared better against the Huskies, thanks in part to a more determined effort from his defense.
UMass was in a tight spot entering the game. They dressed nine healthy forwards, with defensemen filling in on the offensive lines.
The Minutemen’s attempt to claw back into the game started early in the second period. They started winning puck battles and getting breakouts, but Rob Nichols and the UConn defense kept them at bay. When Gerling buried his breakaway, it deflated UMass.
“I thought they were taking the play to us a little bit and Trevor turned the momentum,” Cavanaugh said.
UConn saw the game out over the last 27 minutes. Senior Cody Sharib put the icing on the cake with a beautiful backhand effort through Dill’s legs after a nice combination play with Joey Ferriss to give the Huskies’ a 4-0 lead.
The game did end on a sour note, however. After a whistle with 0.5 seconds left, four UMass players crowded around Ryan Segalla, leading to a scrum on the ice. UConn’s Jacob Poe and UMass’ Oleg Yevenko were given five-minute majors for grabbing the facemask, while Segalla got an elbowing minor.
Cavanaugh said that no disqualifications were handed out, so no players will be suspended for the start of the Hockey East tournament.
UConn will not know its opponent until Saturday night. If Maine loses at Providence, the Huskies will go to New Hampshire to play the Wildcats. Any other result from Maine would put UConn up against Vermont or Notre Dame.
Whatever happens, there will be no UConn hockey at the XL Center until October, but the Huskies’ first season in Hockey East was a success from a home-ice perspective. UConn went 5-3-3 at the XL Center, posting wins over Boston College, Vermont and UMass Lowell along the way. The Huskies averaged 5,814 fans in Hartford over 11 games, ending with 6,289 Friday.
“For our first year in Hockey East,” Cavanaugh said, “to be able to lead Hockey East in attendance for the games here at the XL, I think says a lot about where this program’s going in the future.”