UConn men’s hockey rode a strong first and second period to hold on against No. 4 UMass-Lowell, 3-2 at the Tsongas Center in Lowell, MA on Friday night. The Huskies have now won three straight matchups against the River Hawks, including two in Lowell.
“I liked our energy on the bench,” head coach Mike Cavanaugh said postgame.
Spencer Naas opened the scoring for UConn, with Tage Thompson netting the final two, including the game-winner. He now has 10 goals on the year and the Huskies are 5-0-1 when he scores two goals in his one-plus seasons as a Husky.
Maxim Letunov added two assists on the night, for his team-leading eighth and ninth of the season.
Adam Huska made 31 saves on the evening in his third win on the road against a top-10 team.
“He’s been steady all year long,” Cavanaugh said. “He’s had some very big wins for us. It’s nice to have that kind of depth.”
UMass-Lowell’s biggest strength is its power play. The River Hawks boast the ninth-best in the country, converting 22.7 percent of their chances coming into the game. The Huskies held strong down a man, only allowing five shots on goal on their way to killing all five of their penalties.
“I think [the penalty kill] has been the most consistent part of our team all year long,” Cavanaugh said. “Tonight, clearly, it helped win us one.”
The Huskies started the scoring early. Naas took a feed from below the goal line from Justin Howell and found himself with time right in front of Tyler Wall. He beat Wall with a quick shot just 1:57 into the game for a 1-0 lead.
Thompson scored his ninth of the year and his first of the evening 12:20 into the first when he helped force a turnover just outside UConn’s offensive zone. Wall got most of the shot, but he couldn’t keep it out.
Freshman Colin O’Neill scored the first two goals of his career for the River Hawks at 5:34 and 15:27 of the first period, tying the game each time. His first one came on a deflection on a long shot and his second came when he was driving to the net and put home a rebound.
After a clean first, there was a flurry of penalties in the middle period. Thompson took advantage, getting his second of the night after Tyler Mueller went to the box for interference 9:06 into the second.
“I saw I had two guys beat up ice and just tried to join the play,” Thompson said. “[Letunov] made a nice pass.”
Max Letunov made a very nice centering pass to a trailing Thompson, who beat Wall for the second time of the evening for a 3-2 Huskies lead.
UConn was outplayed in the third period, but they were able to hold on for the win, despite taking two penalties in the final 4:53 of the game.
“It’s always tough no matter what when you’re in a one-goal game and you have to kill two penalties in the last five minutes,” Cavanaugh said. “We didn’t get frustrated, we went out and killed the penalties.”
UConn (5-6-5, 3-3-1) looks for their second consecutive sweep of UMass-Lowell Saturday at 3:35 p.m. at XL Center.