In the inaugural Connecticut Ice Festival matchup, UConn men’s hockey fell to the Quinnipiac Bobcats, 3-2.
UConn can’t find equalizer
After an action-packed first period that featured two goals from either side, the final 40 minutes saw just a single puck find the back of the net. Quinnipiac scored the game-winner 7:57 into the second period with a fluky shot from behind the net that bounced off UConn goaltender Tomas Vomacka’s back and into the goal.
The Huskies weren’t without their chances though. Despite taking just 12 shots over the final two periods, UConn consistently created dangerous plays and the low shot total speaks more to the fact that the Bobcats packed the front of the net with bodies and blocked 20 shots on the night.
During one power play in the third period, the Huskies couldn’t connect on two different back-door chances while another shot from right outside the crease just missed the net. UConn attacked the net furiously in the final minute after pulling Vomacka, but the puck just refused to go in.
Unlike prior losses to Northeastern or Merrimack, there was no shame in defeat for the Huskies. They competed hard for all 60 minutes and skated stride-for-stride with Quinnipiac. High-intensity games are often decided by the bounce of a puck and tonight, that bounce went the Bobcats’ way.
Strong first period goes to waste
This season, the first 30 seconds of the game for UConn have been a strong indicator of how the rest of the game will go. During the ugly weekend against BC, the Huskies were quickly overmatched by an Eagles team that looked faster and strong. Last week in the win against Maine, UConn beat the Black Bears to pucks and got plenty of chances in the early going.
Saturday night was no different. From the opening puck drop, it was back-and-forth action between the two teams, though neither got a great look early on. That changed less than five minutes in when Ruslan Iskhakov buried a rebound on the back post to give UConn an early 1-0 lead.
However, that momentum quickly evaporated. Eighteen seconds later, Quinnipiac blasted a shot off a power play that found the back of the net which erased the Huskies’ lead in the blink of an eye. The Bobcats scored the next goal as well before UConn fought back and evened things up before the end of the period.
While the tying goal was certainly a boost for the Huskies going into the locker room, they could’ve had more. UConn outshot Quinnipiac 16-7, dictated play on the ice and forced the Bobcats to shake things up.
“They dominated us in the first period. They were all over us, we were really struggling. We were showing our immaturity,” Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold said. “We went down to nine forwards and four or five [defensemen] because we had some kids that weren’t ready to play and we can’t win that way.”
The Huskies didn’t get that many chances throughout the rest of the game and ultimately couldn’t make a play and find the equalizer when they needed to.
The bigger killer was that fact that UConn had two defensive lapses while its offense fired on all cylinders. The Bobcats’ first goal came on a quick shot from a face-off, something they do often. That was mentioned to the team and made a point of emphasis this week in preparation for the game, yet the Huskies still got burned.
On the second goal, Jake Flynn turned the puck over right in front of net. Odeen Tufto collected it and dropped it for Wyatt Bongiovanni, who ripped it past Vomacka for the score.
UConn certainly would’ve been lifted with another goal in the first period but giving up two preventable goals likely made the bigger difference in deciding the result.
CT Ice shows potential, but needs work
While one game is a small sample size, Connecticut Ice’s opener showed a glimpse of what the tournament’s potential can be. The crowd wasn’t insignificantly, though it was far from filling up the 8,412-seat Webster Bank Arena. No official attendance was announced for the first game.
However, what the crowd lacked in size, it made up for it with energy. There was a buzz in the air before the puck even hit the ice and fanbases from both teams were loud. While Quinnipiac might’ve had a slight edge, it looked pretty close to a 50-50 split between the two fanbases.
But all-in-all, both coaches were thrilled about their first impression of the tournament as they looked over a packed media room postgame:
“This is something that needs to happen every year,” Cavanaugh said. “I want to make sure we continue to grow it and grow it because for an inaugural crowd, it was pretty good and it was an exciting game...For years to come we’re all going to have competitive teams. If we continue to grow it, it’s only going to be great for the state of Connecticut and all the hockey fanbase here.”
“I’m excited we started this tournament. (Former Yale coach) Tim Taylor and I talked about this 15-16 years ago, it just never happened. Excited to have it come to fruition,” Pecknold said. “I hope it’s infinite. I think we should run this tournament every year for the next 30, 40, 50 years...I think it’s great for the state.”
The first tournament is always going to have some kinks that need to be worked out. But it seems like day one was nothing short of a resounding success. There were enough fans interested and the ones that came were into the game.
Looking forward, the biggest issue is the ticket prices. They were set at roughly $70 for adults and $35 for youth under 18 for the two-day pass or $45 for adults and $20 for youth for just a single day. While $70 for four games of quality hockey is a good deal, that’s a lot of money for fans who plan to just watch their respective teams play.
It’s also a tough price for a family of four to justify on top of the cost of gas, parking, concession, etc. While it’s important not to devalue the product, lowering the ticket prices seems like a good way to get more people in the door to create an even better atmosphere and really get hockey fans in the state interested and invested in the tournament for years to come.
Quote of the night
“I thought UConn was great tonight. Maybe deserved a better fate. Maybe we stole one tonight.” - QU coach Rand Pecknold.
With the loss, UConn will face Yale in the consolation game at 3:30 p.m. on SNY.