In their first game back at the XL Center since Dec. 7, the UConn men’s hockey put forth a disappointed effort and fell to the RPI Engineers, 5-2. Here’s how it went down:
UConn’s Offense Struggles
While UConn managed 33 shots — five more than their opponent — it was a lackluster night for the Huskies’ offense. It rarely felt like they made RPI goaltender Owen Savory work and keep the puck out of the net, with most of the shots either right at him or off-target.
“I’d like to see more shots from everybody,” head coach Mike Cavanaugh said postgame. “Some of our guys miss the net. We have good chances to score and we miss the net. I think that’s going to be a theme from everybody we need to get more pucks to the net.”
Special Teams Makes the Difference
There’s plenty of moments in the game that could be pointed to where if one thing happened, it could’ve potentially changed the final outcome. But looking at the stats, special teams play ended up deciding the game.
“The game came down to special teams for sure,” Cavanaugh said. “I thought five on five it was a pretty even game. But special teams, they get two power play goals and they get the empty-netter. That’s the 5-2 score right.”
When UConn was on the power play, they didn’t overwhelm RPI’s net and really threaten to score. They managed just five shots on their three power play attempts. The Huskies peppered the net better when they had the extra skater after pulling goaltender Tomas Vomacka but couldn’t take advantage and let up the empty netter.
Huskies Give Up Another Goal in Final Minute
Closing out periods has been a major issue for UConn this season and that continued against RPI. The Huskies allowed a goal with 44 seconds left in the second period, the eighth time they’ve allow a goal in the final minute of a period this season, excluding empty netters.
The goal swung momentum after UConn scored their first goal just six minutes early and turned a manageable 2-1 deficit entering the final period into a much steeper 3-1 hole — one that proved too large for the Huskies to climb out of.
UConn is 1-6 this season when they allow a goal in the final minute of a period, with their sole win coming against Yale on New Years’ Eve.
In the early minutes of the third quarter, UConn had a power play while facing just a one-goal deficit. Wyatt Newpower got a great look in front of net but his shot clanged off the very inside of the post and went out.
Not only would the goal have tied the game, it would’ve given the Huskies’ momentum with a pair of goals to start the third period. But instead, UConn still trailed by one and couldn’t find the elusive third goal to draw even and RPI eventually put the game out of reach.
Stats of Note
- UConn has yet to earn a result this season after trailing at an intermission. They are now 0-8-0 when losing after the first period and 0-11-0 when trailing at the second period.
- Brian Rigali scored the first goal for UConn at the 13:38 mark in the second period, his third of the season. It was assisted by Max Kalter and Evan Wisocky.
- Miles Gendron tallied the second, sending a wrist-shot in near-post from the circle.
- Karl El-Mir and Alexander Payusov, who are tied for the team lead in goals with 11 each, combined for just three shots all game. Wyatt Newpower put four shots on while Benjamin Freeman and Jachym Kondelik both totaled three shots each.
- Tomas Vomacka finished with 23 saves on the night. It was his first appearance since Dec. 7 against Boston College, ironically the Huskies’ last game at the XL Center before tonight.
Despite all the talk of how young a team UConn has this season, Cavanaugh doesn’t want to hear it anymore. He doesn’t want youth to be an excuse.
“With such a young group with 12 freshmen, it’s time they start playing like veterans too,” Cavanaugh said. “That’s going to be the big thing going forward is having our young guys play like veterans.”
It will also help that UConn plays 10 of their final 12 games at home and no more long-distance trips to places like Belfast, Northern Ireland or Las Vegas. The stretch run is here for the Huskies and it’s time to make or break. UConn will have a chance to begin digging out from 10th-place in Hockey East a week from Friday on Jan. 25 when they start at home-and-home series with UNH at the XL Center.