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UConn men’s hockey blasted by No. 12 Northeastern, 5-2

The Huskies started slow and never recovered.

UConn’s Brian Rigali (19) sets up to block a shot in the second period vs Northeastern.
Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

UConn men’s hockey came out flat in its first Hockey East game of the second half, falling to the Northeastern Huskies 5-2.

Here’s what happened:

Slow start dooms Huskies

After a 10-game stretch in which UConn played up to its talent level, it reverted to its early-season form against Northeastern. UConn got off on the wrong foot before the game even began when it came onto the ice late for introductions. From there, it was all downhill.

Northeastern scored just 30 seconds in and 27 seconds after that, UConn’s Jachym Kondelik went to the box for high sticking. After one period, Mike Cavanaugh’s squad faced a 3-0 deficit. Late in the second quarter, UConn looked up at a 5-0 lead before a goal from Vladislav Firstov got the team on the board.

“That’s the most disappointed I’ve been since probably the BC weekend,” Cavanaugh said. “I thought we strung together a good stretch of hockey for probably 10 games and tonight we didn’t. Started right from us being late coming on the ice for the game. I didn’t think we were into the game right from the get-go and we spotted them three goals and didn’t make a push until it was 5-0.”

In the first two periods, Northeastern skated harder for pucks and didn’t make simple mistakes. It looked very similar to the Boston College series where the Eagles were faster, quicker and tougher than the Huskies from the first puck drop. Effort isn’t usually an issue for Cavanaugh’s team, but it was one of the main culprits through the first 40 minutes.

But to UConn’s credit, it didn’t quit. The final period was dominated by the home Huskies, who held the puck in their offensive zone for long stretches and out-shot Northeastern 14-4. While UConn added a second goal seven minutes into the third period to add a little more intrigue, it couldn’t find another one to really turn the pressure up on Northeastern.

While UConn is no stranger to comeback victories over the last 10 games — recovering from an early 3-1 deficit against Miami is the best example — but it dug itself into too deep of a hole against too good of a team to climb out of.

Transition troubles

UConn limited Northeastern to just seven shots in the first period — a good number against any team, let alone the No. 12 team in the nation. But Northeastern put three of those shots into the back of the net, rendering the shot total irrelevant.

Whenever Northeastern got the puck, whether it was in the neutral zone or in its own end, it immediately broke out in transition and left UConn scrambling. Northeastern’s first two goals came off bad turnovers while its third was gifted from a bad clearance.

“We turned two pucks over that we were under full control of where we weren’t under any pressure,” Cavanaugh said. “The first goal we turn a puck over, Adam [Karashik] gets caught a little bit up (the ice). On the second goal, same thing. We had full control and passed it right to their guy. I think it was more us being lackadaisical and out to lunch and not ready to play a hockey game. They’re a team that if you turn the puck over, they’re highly skilled and they’ll make you play.”

The transition game has been the barometer for which UConn team will show up on any given night. During the Huskies’ early-season struggles, they had trouble moving the puck through the neutral zone just as they did tonight. But when UConn is on top of its game, those mistakes aren’t there. While Northeastern did press, UConn’s mistakes were more self-inflicted than anything.

Still a work in progress

As well as UConn played at times over the last 10 games, Friday night was simply a reminder that the program isn’t quite ready to take the step to the next level. The Huskies have the talent to compete with anyone in the country, but it requires the team’s best effort to do so. UConn is still a young team. Off-nights and inconsistency will happen, especially against a team like Northeastern.

The difference now as compared to the past is that the Huskies’ peaks are significantly higher than they’ve ever been, even if the lows are still there. The next progression will be sustaining those peaks while reducing the nights like tonight.

But Northeastern deserves credit as well. To my eyes, the Huskies from Boston were the second-best team UConn has seen this season behind Boston College. There’s a reason Northeastern is ranked No. 12 in the country. UConn can’t come out flat and expect to compete against a team that talented and well-coached.

Just like after that awful BC weekend, the key for the Huskies will be how they bounce back. With a strong performance against Merrimack, tonight can be written off as a one-off exception. But if the same UConn team shows up again, that’ll be cause for concern.

Quote of the night

“We have to coach better, we have to play better, our special teams have to be better. The effort from the entire UConn hockey program needed to be better tonight and it wasn’t.” - Mike Cavanaugh

Other notes

  • UConn falls to 7-8-4 on the season and 4-5-2 in Hockey East play. The Huskies are 0-2-1 in the second half so far.
  • With the loss, UConn is now 1-3-2 against ranked teams. With the exception of Boston College, every ranked team the Huskies have faced has been No. 12 in the USA Today Poll.
  • Benjamin Freeman missed the game with an illness while Ryan Keane was out with an arm injury.
  • Ruslan Iskhakov was slow to get up on two different occasions but is expected to be okay moving forward.

Up Next

Hockey East play continues for UConn when the welcome Merrimack to the XL Center on a Tuesday night, one of just two weekday games for the Huskies this season. Puck drop is set for 7:05 p.m.