UConn Men’s Hockey broke their three-game losing streak, getting the win against No. 11 Vermont by a score of 3-1 in front of 6,297 at the XL Center in Hartford, Connecticut on Friday night.
The crowd was the largest home attendance of the year.
“[The crowd was] unbelievable,” head coach Mike Cavanaugh said postgame. “That’s probably the best crowd I’ve seen since opening night [in 2014] when we played BC.”
The Husky goals were scored by Karl El-Mir, Johnny Austin and Kasperi Ojantakanen.
Adam Huska had 34 saves in the win.
“[Huska] played very, very well,” Cavanuagh said. “He was excellent.”
UConn may have only led 11-to-7 in shots and ended the first period of play with a scoreless tie, but they played much better than the Catamounts did.
“We set the tone,” Cavanaugh said. “But I was happier when we got that first goal.”
They came out hard and had the first four shots on goal of the game, dominating puck possession. When Vermont got shots off, they were usually on the rush and they weren’t able to sustain possession. When UConn took shots, it was the result of good passing and movement off the puck.
The foundation they set in the first 20 minutes paid dividends early in the second period.
El-Mir found the puck just inside the right point and had some space to skate. He took the puck to the high slot and beat Vermont goaltender Stefanos Lekkas at 1:43 of the period with a hard shot for his eighth goal of the year. It was the first UConn lead since Jan. 12, when they completed the win against Maine in Bridgeport.
The Catamounts outshot the Huskies 11-to-6 in the second period, but UConn still looked like the better team.
Save for Vermont’s power play late in the second period, it was a similar situation. UConn was able to set up in the zone, but Vermont, for the most part, couldn’t.
The Catamounts almost got one back in the final minute of the period, but the combination of Adam Huska and David Drake made a goal-line clear to prevent the tying goal.
“It’s much better going into the third period 1-0 rather than 1-1,” Cavanaugh said.
The third period saw emotions boil over.
There were only four penalties called during the period, but the entire 20 minutes saw some very physical play, with scrums after almost every whistle.
“I think that’s what you’re going to see going down the stretch here,” Cavanaugh said. “I think as you get going down the stretch in the last month, with eight games, you’re going to see a lot of physical play.”
Austin gave the Huskies some breathing room in the early stages of the third.
He forced a turnover and carried the puck from blue line to blue line. His shot from the high slot beat Lekkas low and to the stick side at 5:37 of the period to give the Huskies a 2-0 lead.
In the middle of the third period, UConn’s penalty kill came up huge. Within 23 seconds, UConn had taken three penalties, resulting in 3:37 of power play time for the Catamounts. They did not allow a goal and only allowed four shots in that time.
“I thought we did a great job of controlling the tempo,” Cavanaugh said. “We did a good job of not getting stuck out there.”
Ojantakanen put it away at 16:28 of the period. He found a rebound and buried it to give UConn a 3-0 lead with just 3:32 remaining. The assists went to Spencer Naas and Max Kalter.
Down 3-0, the Catamounts came back hard, scoring just 1:04 later. Craig Puffer took feeds from Matt O’Donnell and Jarrid Privitera and his shot rang off the post before beating Huska.
Vermont desperately searched for another pair of goals, but they couldn’t find any and UConn held on for the win.
“There was about two-and-a-half minutes left and I think we had a couple of good shifts,” Cavanaugh said. “I think the key was when Spencer [Naas] beat out that icing.”
UConn (10-10-6, 6-6-2 Hockey East) gets back in action next Friday as part of a home-and-home weekend series with the Merrimack Warriors (10-13-3, 4-7-3) Puck drop is at 7 p.m. in North Andover, Massachusetts on Friday night and 3 p.m. at the XL Center on Saturday.
Mike Cavanaugh, Karl El-Mir, Adam Huska postgame: