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Nichols pulled as UConn gets blown out at No. 13 Providence

Providence dominated Saturday's game from start to finish, cruising to a 10-1 win that saw Rob Nichols replaced by Tom Communale.

Rob Nichols made 15 saves on 20 shots before being pulled Saturday night. (Photo by Steve Quick/The Daily Campus)
Rob Nichols made 15 saves on 20 shots before being pulled Saturday night. (Photo by Steve Quick/The Daily Campus)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – The first time UConn played at Schneider Arena, the Huskies completed one of the most impressive performances in program history. Behind a record 58 saves from Matt Grogan, UConn hung on by a thread to beat No. 9 Providence 3-2, earning its first ever win over a top 10 team.

The Friars felt like they deserved more than two goals on 60 shots, so they cashed in a few IOUs.

More than a few, actually.

UConn was the victim of a shellacking Saturday night at Schneider. The Huskies were two steps behind the Friars from start to finish, as Providence cruised to a 10-1 victory.

"One team came ready to play and one team didn't, right through the entire game," UConn coach Mike Cavanaugh said.

Rob Nichols was pulled from the game after the Nick Saracino scored on a power play to give the Friars a 5-0 lead 2:48 into the second period. Nichols finished with 15 saves on 20 shots in just under 23 minutes. Tom Communale replaced the UConn starter, making his third appearance of the season. The senior backup finished with 18 saves.

Nichols had only been pulled in one other game this season, a 7-1 loss at Penn State on Oct. 11.

"We hadn't played really well in front of Robbie, so I said, 'Hey, I don't want to leave him hung out to dry,'" Cavanaugh said. "Make no mistake, they were playing terrific. There's a reason why teams play poorly – because the other team's playing really well."

Saturday's loss is the Huskies' most lopsided defeat since Oct. 11, 2002, when UConn lost to Northeastern 10-1.

The Huskies' lone goal came from sophomore Evan Richardson, who beat Providence backup goaltender Nick Ellis with a close-range effort early in the third period. Ellis had just replaced Friars starter Jon Gillies, who only needed to make 17 saves in two periods.

Providence had control from the get-go, immediately putting pressure on Nichols' goal. Five minutes of relentless pressure resulted in a goal for Ross Mauermann, who beat Nichols with a wraparound for his seventh goal of the season. The goal was also the 100th career point for the Providence co-captain.

UConn held its own for most of the period after that, but then the Huskies went on a power play with 1:35 remaining in the period. Fifteen seconds into the Huskies' man advantage, PC's Steven McParland beat Kasperi Ojantakanen on a draw in the UConn zone and get on against Nichols, beating him five-hole with a backhanded effort.

Providence scored again 37 seconds later, when co-captain Noel Acciari won the puck in the neutral zone and went in uncontested for a breakaway goal, sending the Friars into the break up 3-0.

"It was definitely a shot," Cavanaugh said. "But still, usually, you can sometimes overcome that and come out and play a real strong second period, maybe get one goal and you go into the third 3-1. But they scored on the first shift (of the second period), and they kept coming."

The Friars were unrelenting in the second period. Saracino scored at the 1:11 mark and again on the power play at 2:48 to run Nichols from the game. Mark Adams scored five minutes later on a blast from the blue line, and Kevin Rooney and Brian Pinho scored the seventh and eighth goals less than two minutes apart later in the period.

Saracino completed the hat trick 1:07 into the third period. Brandon Tanev beat Communale for the 10th goal 6:39 into the third, 40 seconds after Richardson had pulled one back for UConn.

UConn has lost big a couple times this season, notably at Penn State in the second game of the year and in Bridgeport against Notre Dame on Jan. 18. But this was the first time the Huskies, currently eighth in Hockey East after being picked to finish last, looked clearly inferior to their opponent.

But Cavanaugh, a diehard New England sports fan, turned to his favorite football team, the Super Bowl champions, to show that games like Saturday's can happen to anyone.

"The Patriots looked inferior in Kansas City after Week 4, too," Cavanaugh said. "You just have to erase that game, and it's an aberration. And it's only an aberration if we get back to playing the way we can, you know? There's too many guys just not playing through the body. And that falls on us as coaches, on them as players.

"But, you know, if you can learn from it and move on, play really well down the stretch because we understand that if we don't come ready to play it can be 10-1, then it can be a positive thing."

UConn only has two days to get back to playing the way it can. The Huskies are back on the ice Tuesday against Merrimack, a make-up game due to the snowstorm that postponed the original meeting on Jan. 27. UConn ends the week with a home-and-home series against Northeastern Friday and Saturday.

Saturday's loss comes after three straight overtime games, including a 2-2 tie between UConn and Providence Wednesday night in Hartford. The Huskies looked tired and slow all game, but Cavanaugh will not accept fatigue as an excuse.

"We had Thursday and Friday off, or days to recover," Cavanaugh said.