Going into this season, UConn Men’s Hockey had lost all 10 of its meetings against Northeastern, including some very one-sided affairs. The losing streak ended Tuesday evening, however, as Mike Cavanaugh’s squad took down the No. 12 Northeastern “Huskies” 4-1 at the XL Center on the strength of a three-goal first period.
Johnny Austin led the Huskies with three points, scoring a goal and two assists while Jesse Schwartz scored a goal and an assist to finish with two points. Maxim Letunov and Alexander Payusov scored the other two goals for the home team.
Shots were even in the first 20 minutes, at 8-7 in UConn’s favor, but the play was anything but. The home Huskies took it to Northeastern from the opening face-off and did not let up.
“I thought that first period was the best period of hockey we played this year,” Cavanaugh said, just a week after his Huskies scored three goals in the first period of their victory at Vermont.
Northeastern got an early power play but still struggled to get anything going due to strong backchecking and defensive play. UConn was getting in passing lanes and winning races to the puck.
“It starts with goaltending,” Cavanaugh said. “But we’re doing a much better job of eliminating second chances.”
Once UConn got on the man advantage after Lincoln Griffin was called for boarding, the Huskies got one in net.
On the rush, Letunov, skating right down the middle of the slot, took a feed from the right side off the stick of Schwartz and one nifty move later, rubber met twine at 8:27 for a 1-0 UConn lead.
Ninety seconds later, Austin made it 2-0. After a well-timed shot fake, he gained space and walked down the left side, where his shot from the top of the circle beat a screened Ryan Ruck.
With just over a minute left in the opening frame, Schwartz registered his eighth point in his last seven contests with an effort goal from just outside the crease on a pass from behind the net by Corey Ronan. After 20 minutes, the score was 3-0.
UConn continued to press through the first half of the second period, but starting with a shorthanded chance by Dylan Sikura that Adam Huska was able to stop, Northeastern started to look like the No. 12 team in the nation.
The visitors had the shots advantage, 10-to-4, and held much of the possession. They finally cut into the lead 17:12 in off the stick of Sikura. Max Kalter tried to stop it, but the puck took a bounce off his stick and went in.
Brian Rigali went to the box to begin the third, but UConn killed the penalty and got back on the attack.
“In the past, we haven’t played that well against them so it’s good to get that lead against them and keep that lead,” Austin said.
Payusov, who missed nine games due to a knee injury, scored on a deflection 5:11 into the third period off an Austin shot from the right point.
“I’m happy to be back,” Payusov said. “[Scoring] feels good.”
Goaltender Adam Huska made 26 saves on the evening. This was the fourth straight game and the fifth in the last six where the Huskies only allowed one goal. The Huskies have now also defeated every Hockey East team at least once as Cavanaugh earns his 13th victory over a ranked team.
UConn (6-10-2, 4-6-1) continues conference play against UMass on Friday at the Mullins Center in Amherst, Massachusetts. Puck drop is at 7 p.m.