The UConn Huskies completed a remarkable comeback at the Whittemore Center in Durham, New Hampshire Saturday night, winning 5-4 in overtime. They will be hosting the first round of the Hockey East Tournament at the XL Center as a result.
UConn fell behind quickly, 2-0 after the first eight minutes, but forced overtime after a three-goal third period. Sophomore forward Corey Ronan, playing in his second game back from injury, netted the game-winner in the extra frame.
New Hampshire took advantage of a trio of UConn penalties to build its lead. The Wildcats opened the scoring with a power-play goal four minutes in and then added another just seconds into a 5-on-3 advantage at the 12:04 mark. New Hampshire was playing a bit better in even strength as well, and appeared to be on its way to a comfortable home win.
The second period saw the Wildcats actually add to their lead. They started by converting a breakaway opportunity early on to push the lead to three. UConn got on the board in the second stanza after a Tage Thompson one-timer on a power play made it 3-1, but a UNH goal with less than a minute left had the Huskies trailing 4-1 at the second intermission.
At this point, I was Googling how long it takes to drive to Burlington, Vermont or Merrimack's Lawlor Rink. The Huskies are no offensive juggernaut, and playing on the larger rink at New Hampshire against a solid team clearly had gotten the best of them. Luckily, I was dead wrong.
If the Huskies were going to make the comeback, the beginning of the third period was as opportune a time as any. It started with a 5-on-3 power play which would be followed by another 1:15 with a 5-on-4 advantage. Both advantages expired without much of a scare but the Huskies struck nylon shortly after it got back to even strength.
Senior forward Joey Ferris made things interesting when he fired a backhand shot past New Hampshire netminder Danny Tirone to make it 4-2 with 17:20 left in the game. He was set up by a nice feed from Max Kalter and Karl El-Mir earned the second assist. The Ferris, Kalter, El-Mir line earned high praise from head coach Mike Cavanaugh after the game.
A holding penalty on UNH at the 9:04 mark helped the Huskies close the gap. Armed with the man-advantage, Evan Richardson fired a shot from the point which bounced off Tirone and eventually made it to the stick of sophomore forward Spencer Naas, who put it in net.
What was looking like a blowout became a one-goal game with a hearty 9:34 remaining.
New Hampshire was coming on strong though in the closing minutes of the third period, with a late barrage in the Husky zone preventing Cavanaugh from pulling goalie Rob Nichols until about the 1:10 mark.
Luckily, as sixth skater Patrick Kirtland made his way onto the ice he watched the game-tying goal unfold right in front of him. Freshman defenseman Joe Masonius took the puck behind the net and sent a perfect pass to Ferriss front and center, which he buried to tie it up. The crowd was briefly silenced, but rose back to life as New Hampshire tried in vain to move ahead with the remaining seconds of regulation.
It's worth noting at this point that the New Hampshire crowd of over 5,300 was mostly roaring throughout the game. It was one of the most lively crowds I've seen or heard at a road venue. The student section, in particular, did a great job of injecting spirit into the atmosphere at a great arena.
Corey Ronan, who had a shorthanded goal in last night's win at the XL Center, notched the game-winner with another strong individual effort. He corralled the puck in traffic and cut across the net, then fired a backhand shot above Tirone's shoulder to stun the crowd into silence once more.
The sudden-death goal signaled the end of the game. The Huskies stepped up in remarkable fashion to grab four points on the weekend.
Elsewhere in the conference, Merrimack defeated Vermont 2-0 to complete a weekend sweep of its own. The result moved the Warriors into seventh place in the conference and helped UConn move ahead of Vermont with its win.
The Huskies will be hosting the Catamounts at the XL Center next weekend, March 4-7, in the first round of the Hockey East Tournament- an incredible accomplishment for Mike Cavanaugh and his players in their second year as members of the conference.
Photo gallery credits: Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog