clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

UConn Men’s Hockey Upsets No. 2 UMass, 4-3

The Huskies knock off the highest-ranked opponent in program history on Senior Night.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

UConn men’s hockey ended their season on a high note, knocking off the No. 2 UMass Minutemen, 4-3. It was the Huskies’ third win over a ranked opponent this season.

Here’s how it went down:

UConn Sends Their Seniors Out High Note

Few seniors will ever end their careers with a win as incredible as the Huskies’ season finale. Realistically, the only thing that could top it would be winning the national championship in your final game.

“Usually you go off a playoff loss and it sucks and you know you’re never going to play again,” said senior Karl El-Mir. “But it’s hard crying when you just beat the second-best team in the nation.”

All three players were strong contributors on the ice. El-Mir finished with the team lead in points with 27, Max Kalter racked up 15 and Miles Gendron was arguably the team’s best defender. But it was their leadership that head coach Mike Cavanaugh praised the most after the trio’s final game in a UConn uniform.

“What they did this year that I was more impressed with was how they brought this group along,” he said. “It’s very easy in a season it’s not going your way, especially when you have 12 younger guys, it can go sideways and be a train wreck. What they did to keep this group competitive the last month of the season, for us to finish 5-3...I can’t say enough about their leadership.”

While there’s only three of them, Cavanaugh sees them as perfect examples of what they want to build with the UConn men’s hockey program.

“Miles, Karl and Max represent everything that we stand for,” he said. “We want players that are going to graduate. We want to make them better men and we want to compete for trophies. Through their time here, they won a trophy, a Christmas Tournament, we hadn’t won a trophy here in 18 years. I wish they were able to get more.”

UConn Ends Season Strong

For a good chunk of the year, it looked like this was going to be a rebuilding season, through and through. The Huskies struggled badly at times like not winning a Hockey East game for over two months.

But then a switch flipped. Maybe it was the change to Tomas Vomacka in goal over Adam Huska. After that, UConn beat No. 13 Northeastern in a come from behind win and finished the season 5-3 in their final eight games. Two of those losses came on the road and the one that wasn’t came to a ranked opponent.

Over those last eight games, the Huskies proved they could skate with anyone in the nation, capped off by beating No. 2 UMass in the season finale.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

Future is Bright

While UConn finished with their worst season in their brief Hockey East history, there’s a lot to be excited about in the future. Vomacka took the starting goaltender job at the end of the season and will likely begin next year as the starter. He has already shown a knack for making clutch saves and did so against on Friday, flying across the net to deny what seemed like a sure goal for UMass which would’ve tied the game.

“The save [Vomacka] made coming across, I don’t know how he made that save,” Cavanaugh said. “That’s just a competitor. He had to make some big saves to keep us in that game and eventually, let us win it.”

Meanwhile, Jonny Evans and Ruslan Iskhakov continued to combine for spectacular goals. Evans jumped on a UMass turnover and drove towards net before sending a pass backwards between his legs to Iskhakov, who sent the wrister into the back of the net. It was another on a long list of highlight-reel goals for the two freshmen. It was Evan’s eighth assists (16 points) and Iskhakov’s six goal (21 points) of the season.

And while those two have been electric, fellow freshmen Jachym Kondelik finished second on the team with 26 points (four goals, 22 assists) while Kale Howarth (5-4—9) Carter Turnbull (2-5—7) and Roman Kinal (1-5—6) deserve mention as well.

“I’m excited for what we have going forward, especially with the way we finished the season,” Cavanaugh said. “Sometimes, it takes a little bit longer to find your rhythm and competitiveness as a group...I feel like if the season was another month longer, we’d be playing in the Hockey East playoffs for sure.”

UConn Hockey Has Real Fans

At the beginning of the season, there were some questions about the dedication of UConn men’s hockey fans. Before the season began, the school approved plans for a new, 2,500-seat arena. Many fans decried it being too small. The retort to that was that the Huskies were struggling to draw fans at the XL Center, so fewer would make the trip out to Storrs for a game.

And the argument had some water. Overall attendance had dropped every season since UConn joined Hockey East and fans weren’t showing up early in the season. Against Brown, just 1,708 tickets were scanned according to the Hartford Courant.

But the team was struggling and the men’s hockey team had to compete with the start of basketball, soccer and football for fans during November. As the season wore on, fans showed up well to the XL Center even with the team out of playoff contention. Against Merrimack, UConn set the record for the largest at a men’s hockey game in program history with 8,211. Against UMass, 5,035 showed up.

“It’s so impressive to see a crowd out there with a team that’s not making the playoffs. It makes me proud to represent this university that a fanbase comes out and supports us the way they do in a down year for us.”

At the start of the season, it was fair to question the commitment of the #IceBus fanbase. But after the way UConn fans showed up down the stretch, it shows there’s a true commitment to the program in Connecticut.

Goals

Stats:

  • No. 2 UMass is the highest-ranked opponent UConn has ever beaten in program history. The Huskies had defeated a few No. 3 teams and have never played a No. 1 team.
  • UMass had already locked up the top seed in the Hockey East Playoffs. The Minutemen planned before the game to use all three goaltenders, which they did. But the Huskies scored the most goals on starter Matt Murray.
  • Jachym Kondelik closes the book on one of the best freshmen seasons ever at UConn. His 25 points is the seventh-most by a freshman in the program’s Division I history and 14th overall. His 22 assists are the second-most in the school’s DI history by a freshman.
  • UConn finished the season with just two shutouts, a 1-0 win over UVM and a 5-0 win over Merrimack. The Huskies were blanked five times themselves.
  • The most goals UConn scored in a game this season was six against St. Lawrence. The most goals they allowed were seven in the Hockey East opener vs. Providence.
  • The Huskies individual season leaders:

Points: El-Mir — 27
Goals: Payusov — 16
Assists: Kondelik — 22