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UConn men’s hockey upsets No. 12 UMass Lowell, 2-1

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The Huskies earn a massive win on the road.

UConn’s Brian Rigali (19) celebrates after scoring what turns out to be the winning goal vs UMass Lowell.
UConn’s Brian Rigali (19) celebrates after scoring what turns out to be the winning goal vs UMass Lowell.
Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

UConn men’s hockey knocked off the No. 12 UMass Lowell River Hawks 2-1 on Saturday night to claim three of four points on the weekend.

Here’s what went down:

Huskies earn big win

Even before getting destroyed by BC last weekend, UConn was underperforming relative to its talent level. The Huskies dropped home games to Army, Merrimack and RPI — not exactly a murders’ row of opponents.

On Friday night, UConn finally played up to its potential but couldn’t secure the win. But Saturday night, it all came together for the Huskies. For the second night in a row, UConn locked down the UMass Lowell offense, holding it to just 14 shots through two periods and allowing its sole goal on a 4-on-6 situation.

UConn proved its first performance wasn’t a fluke and instead backed it up with another statement performance.

“Coming into the game, we thought we played pretty well last night and we wanted to make sure we did it again,” head coach Mike Cavanaugh said. “If you want to be a good team in this league, you can’t just be good on Friday night and not good on Saturday night. To be able to get three out of four points the hard way against the top team in the league, I’m really proud of our guys tonight.”

Offense grinds two goals

Offense didn’t come easy for either team but the Huskies found the back of the net twice by getting into “the dirty areas” in front of net — as Cavanaugh refers to it — and making life difficult for River Hawks goaltender Tyler Wall.

UConn’s first goal came after Vladislav Firstov’s shot deflected off Wall and got caught up in traffic in front of net which didn’t allow the goaltender to cover it or give UMass Lowell the opportunity to clear it. The puck found its way out to Wyatt Newpower on the blue line, who ripped a one-time slapshot into the goal to put the Huskies up 1-0.

In the third period, Yan Kuznetsov launched a shot on net from the blue line that Wall turned away. However, Brian Rigali was well-positioned in front of the crease to collect the rebound and put it home to double UConn’s lead.

Considering the Huskies put an emphasis on getting more bodies in front of the goal entering the weekend, Cavanaugh was pleased to see it lead the team to victory.

“I thought that was the key to the weekend,” Cavanaugh said. “Brian’s goal and even Wyatt’s goal — it was a shot and it was a rebound and we had traffic in front and it went in, so it was a similar type goal even if it wasn’t a rebound. That’s how we have to play and that’s how you have to play in this league.”

Vomacka stands tall

Tomas Vomacka played arguably his best game in a UConn uniform, saving 29 of the 30 shots he faced on the night. He also made a handful of out-stretched saves to keep the River Hawks off the board.

”I loved his energy and excitement tonight — and his rise to challenge, his competitive fire. He made some dynamite saves when he had to,” Cavanaugh said.

The Huskies’ defense also did a good job of throwing themselves in front of shots and preventing the puck from even getting to Vomacka. The goaltender was more than happy to deflect credit to his defensemen for the strong performance.

“The guys made it a lot easier on me,” he said. “Blocked a ton of shots there...Credit to them for sure.”

Vomacka has been UConn’s best player this season but has sometimes been the victim of the team’s struggles to clear the puck out of the zone which have dragged his numbers down. But with the team firing on all cylinders Saturday night, Vomacka finally got a well-deserved win.

Turning Point

With just over four minutes left, UConn regained even strength after killing off Ruslan Iskhakov’s penalty. However, it didn’t seem like the game would remain five-on-five much longer with UMass Lowell poised to pull the goalie.

But the Huskies prevented the River Hawks from setting up in the zone for a minute and a half — although it could’ve been longer if not for a penalty by Carter Berger with 2:07 left. That forced UMass Lowell to keep Wall in net instead of sending on an extra skater which reduced the amount of time it had to mount a comeback.

While the River Hawks did eventually score on a 6-on-4 after Carter Berger went to the box, it proved to be too little too late as UConn killed off the final minute to earn the win.

Goals

Quote of Note

You saw it on the ice. We played totally different games (from BC to this weekend) and we just showed ourselves if we can play like this, we can play with anyone.” - Tomas Vomacka

Up Next

UConn’s run through the teeth of its Hockey East schedule continues as the Huskies will gear up for a home-and-home with Providence next weekend.