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UConn Men’s Hockey Defeats New Hampshire, 5-3

The Huskies chances of hosting in the Hockey East Tournament remain alive after the road win.

UConn’s Kasperi Ojantakanen (23) celebrates after the first of his two goals on the night.
Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

UConn Men’s Hockey broke its six-game winless streak with a victory over New Hampshire Friday night, 5-3.

Kasperi Ojanatakanen scored two goals and added an assist while Tage Thompson, Spencer Naas, and Philip Nyberg each netted one. Naas had two assists as well.

It was a strong offensive performance from the Huskies, who hadn’t sent more than 25 shots on net since February 3rd. They had a season-high 50 Friday, most since January 10, 2012, against Sacred Heart, when they also had 50.

“That was a point of emphasis for us this week,” Mike Cavanaugh said after the game. “We have to get pucks to the net.”

The game started off poorly with an unfocused start and an early New Hampshire goal just 15 seconds into the game. Off the opening face-off, the Wildcats entered the zone and Jason Salvaggio notched his 21st of the year after a shot from the slot.

Thompson tied it up with a goal 5:51 into the period after finding the puck loose just outside the crease.

“It always is important to come back and get a goal,” Cavanaugh said. “What I think was more important was the second goal.”

Just past the mid-way point of the first period, UConn got the go-ahead goal off the stick of Ojantakanen.

Benjamin Freeman had the puck down behind the goal line against the boards, just to the left of the goal. He threw the puck back into the slot and he found the junior forward whose one-timer hit the back of the net.

“Ben made a great play on that goal,” Naas said.

UConn killed off three penalties in the first period and five overall, allowing New Hampshire only one power-play goal despite spending so much time down a man.

“I don’t want to give up six power plays to that team tomorrow,” Cavanaugh said. “They’re just too good.”

UConn added another goal in the second period. In their best offensive frame of the night, the Huskies held the puck in the zone for large stretches and out-shot the Wildcats 22-to-18.

“Twenty-two shots on net, that has to be a season-high for us,” Cavanaugh said. “I thought we were carrying the play.”

Naas added to the lead with just 1:40 left in the second. Ojantakanen took the puck into the zone on the left side and made a pass to Naas right in the middle of the slot. He faked a shot to make a man miss and then buried the puck behind Daniel Tirone to give the Huskies a 3-1 lead at the second intermission.

“[Ojantakanen] is a tireless worker,” Naas said. “I’ve been on his line pretty much all year so I see how he works.”

In the third period, Nyberg came streaking down the right side and his snapshot was good enough for UConn’s fourth goal 8:54 into the final period.

New Hampshire didn’t go down without a fight. The Wildcats got one back with 7:30 to go as Tyler Kelleher took a shot on the power play from below the left circle that knuckled past Huska to make it just a two-goal game.

They cut the lead to one with 3:32 remaining after Liam Blackburn stuffed at a puck in the crease. After a lengthy review, the referees upheld the call and it was a 4-3 game.

“We regrouped and played pretty well after that,” Cavanaugh said.

UConn clinched it with 26.6 to go when Ojantakanen broke free to score an empty-netter.

UConn (11-14-8, 7-10-4) and New Hampshire do it one more time in the regular season finale. Puck drop is 7:35 p.m. at the XL Center. If both the Huskies and Vermont win tomorrow, UConn will host a first-round series in the Hockey East Tournament. It will also be Senior Day.

UConn head coach Mike Cavanaugh and Spencer Naas postgame:

Photo Gallery credits: Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog