UConn has a solid reputation for rising to the occasion when facing highly-ranked teams, as UMass-Lowell, Boston College, and Boston University can all attest to.
This Huskies added another to the hit list after defeating No. 7 Notre Dame, 4-2, in their first Hockey East game of the year. Maxim Letunov scored two goals while Karl El-Mir notched the game-winner.
Despite putting up four goals, Mike Cavanaugh’s squad won because of goaltending and defense. Freshman Adam Huska made 47 saves on 49 shots, keeping UConn in the game against one of the best teams in the country.
The Huskies allowed the Irish six power plays and were able to hold a top-10-rated power-play unit scoreless, even when they committed a penalty with 5:01 left in the game up 3-2.
The Huskies scored two quick goals towards the end of the first period, 1:57 apart, to take a 2-0 lead into the first intermission.
Coming off a face-off in the Notre Dame zone with 4:44 left in the first period, Jonna Kunnas took a slap shot from the high slot which found the net after a Justin Howell deflection. It was the first collegiate goal for the freshman forward from St. Paul, Minnesota.
The Huskies add to their lead on the power play, where Letunov took a hard slap shot from the top of the right circle. Cal Peterson got most of it, but it trickled in to give UConn a 2-0 lead. Tage Thompson and Brian Morgan earned the assists on the goal 17:13 into the first period.
Huska saved all 11 Notre Dame shots as UConn took a two-goal lead into the first intermission.
In the second period, the Huskies were able to weather a barrage of shots from Notre Dame, with Huska making 20 saves on 21 shots, including many impressive ones to keep the Huskies in the lead.
Notre Dame scored off of a face-off from the left of UConn’s net. The puck found its way to Tony Dello and his well-screened shot beat Huska to cut the lead in half.
Notre Dame was outshooting UConn, 36-15, and creating more chances but Huska made save after save.
The Huskies applied some pressure in the third period and pulled ahead by two once again 7:23 into the third period. El-Mir corralled the puck just to the left of the goal and sent it towards the net. The puck deflected off of a couple of skates before bouncing in. Derek Pratt and Max Kalter assisted El-Mir.
Notre Dame set up a fantastic finish to make it a one-goal game late as a rebound off an Anders Bjork shot skittered out to the slot to the stick of Jake Evans who beat Huska to the left. With just under seven minutes left, the Irish were within striking distance. The Huskies held strong despite a power play over that stretch to preserve the lead.
Letunov hit an empty-netter assisted by Tage Thompson with 1:06 remaining to seal the big upset win for the ones they call #IceBus.
“A real gutsy win,” Cavanaugh said after the game. “We had to kill a lot of penalties, three in the third period. I know how good that hockey team is we just played. They embarrassed last year in Brooklyn, 8-2. They are an outstanding team.
“I thought tonight, even though they doubled us on shots and had a lot of power plays, I was happy with the way we competed. Adam (Huska) was outstanding.”
UConn (3-1-3, 1-0-0) goes for the sweep Friday night, with puck-drop at 7:35 p.m.