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UConn men’s hockey ends first half with 7-4 win over Vermont

The Huskies go into the break above .500 for the first time in the program’s Hockey East history.

UConn’s Jonny Evans (7) celebrates with Ruslan Iskhakov (34) after scoring the first of his three goals.
Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

UConn men’s hockey closed the book on the first half of its season with a hard-fought 7-4 win over the UVM Catamounts.

Here’s how it went down:

Going streaking

The Huskies head into the holidays on a four-game winning streak and hold a 5-1-2 record since getting embarrassed by Boston College. Prior to the weekend against Miami, UConn last swept a team in one weekend back in 2016-17 when it opened the year with a pair of wins over Alabama Huntsville. Now, the Huskies have done it twice in as many weekends.

“Overall, it’s been a really good month for our team, the way we’ve played, just because we’re working hard and playing the game the right way,” Cavanaugh said after the win.

Outside of Vermont, UConn’s hot streak has come against against quality opponents. UMass Lowell and Providence were both ranked No. 12 while Miami sat at No. 39 in the Pairwise Rankings — one spot behind the Huskies.

The series against Boston College has proven to be the turning point in the season.

“We got embarrassed that weekend. I think our guys said ‘This is unacceptable, we can’t play that way.’ It was more the compete on pucks and that was an emphasis all week long before we played Lowell,” Cavanaugh said. “(After) that weekend, it was basically what team do we want to be? Do we want to be a team that just goes up and down the ice and makes pretty plays or do we want to be a team that’s going to grind and focus more on will than skill?”

“Amor fati”

After a strong second period where UConn scored three goals to take a 5-2 lead, the Huskies just needed 20 more quality minutes to earn the win and go into the break on a high note. But things didn’t go to plan the third period after UVM scored a pair of goals in quick succession to bring it to 5-4.

During the media timeout, Cavanaugh gave an impassioned speech to his team from the bench. So what was the message?

“We had the TV timeout and Carol Pandiscia is here, she’s our mental coach. She came up with the slogan ‘amor fati’ which is ‘love of fate’ (in Latin). So no matter what happens, you gotta love it and embrace it. One of things I said was ‘Hey, this is perfect right now. Yeah, it’s not the start we wanted (to the period), it’s 5-4, but just play our game.’”

Not long after, Jonny Evans scored a breakaway goal that gave the Huskies a two-goal lead and appeared to all but put the game bed.

But just a minute later, Justin Howell and UVM’s Thomas Beretta got into it immediately after the face-off and the refs issue two-minute penalties to both players. However, Howell lost his temper and head-butted a different Catamounts player which earned the senior a five-minute major and game misconduct that resulted in his ejection.

But on the bench, UConn just said ‘amor fati’ and killed off the five-minute major without allowing a goal.

“Just because they have a five-minute doesn’t mean they’re gonna score,” Cavanaugh said. “We certainly have the right to kill it and we did.”

Evans returns

After sitting out the last three weekends with a broken finger, Jonny Evans returned to the ice on Friday night but re-introduced himself on Saturday. The sophomore scored the first hat-trick of his career which proved to be the difference against the Catamounts.

“I got set up really well by my teammates there so it was easy,” Evans deflected after the game.

Evans scored in all different ways. His first came on a feed from Jake Flynn that beat UVM goaltender Stefanos Lekkas, so all Evans had to do was put it into the open net. On the second, Kale Howarth flicked a perfect pass from the boards onto Evans’ stick, who beat a pair of defenders to net and buried the breakaway. He secured the hat trick with an empty-netter off another nice feed, this time from Marc Gatcomb.

After a quiet start to the season with just one goal and two assists prior to his injury, it’s easy to forget how dynamic and talented Evans is. Coming back for two games prior to the break will certainly help him pick up where he left off once the Huskies return to action.

Tough time to break

The midseason break hits at a tough time for UConn with the team on a four-game win streak. The Huskies are playing arguably their best hockey in the program’s Hockey East tenure but the three-week break kills all the momentum they’ve built up.

It feels similar to the 2017-18 season when UConn caught fire and went on an eight-game winning streak at the end of the season but earned a bye in the Hockey East playoffs, sat for a weekend and then got swept by Boston University.

However, the Huskies will have a good chance to start the second half off the right foot as they’ll face St. Lawrence (56 out of 60 in Pairwise) in the first game of the Ledyard Classic in Dartmouth.

Quote of Note

“I think everyone’s way more focused on that two points from a win. Nobody cares who scores at this point, everyone just wants to win.” - Sophomore Marc Gatcomb

UConn Goals

Other notes

  • This is UConn’s longest win streak since winning seven in a row back in 2017-18.
  • The Huskies have the second-most wins in the first half with seven, behind only that same 2017-18 season. It’s also the first time in the school’s Hockey East history that it goes into the break with a record above .500.
  • Here’s a look at UConn’s statistical leaders from the first semester:

Goals: 6 — Jachym Kondelik
Assists: 9 — Benjamin Freeman
Points: 13 — Jachym Kondelik
+/-: 5 — Jake Flynn and Carter Turnbull

Next Up

UConn will have a week off for finals before the players head home for 10 days to celebrate the holidays. The Huskies’ next action comes on Dec. 28 against St. Lawrence with a game against Dartmouth on Dec. 29.