UConn men’s hockey was out-played, out-worked and out-classed by the Merrimack Warriors on Tuesday night, falling 6-2.
An absolute egg
After a disappointing loss on Saturday against Northeastern, the Huskies didn’t just fail to bounce back, they had their most disheartening performance of the season Tuesday night against Merrimack. The Warriors came into the game sporting an ugly 4-14-2 record with just six points in Hockey East play and beat UConn in nearly every facet of the game.
“I apologize to all the fans that came out because they didn’t see a team customary to what we usually put on the ice,” head coach Mike Cavanaugh said. “We did not compete for 60 minutes, they were the better team. They deserved to win and we have not played well the last two games.”
For the first minutes of the game, the Warriors kept the action in their offensive zone almost exclusively. After one period, Merrimack held a 15-5 shot advantage and a 1-0 lead — which would’ve been much wider if not for UConn goaltender Tomas Vomacka.
The Huskies’ have lacked mental toughness in the last two games as well. Against Northeastern, UConn let up a goal 30 seconds in and fell into a 5-0 hole before scoring. Merrimack scored its first goal six minutes in before doubling the lead 46 seconds into the second period.
Even after the Huskies responded with a goal from Justin Howell 1:30 later to half the deficit, they allowed two more goals to fall behind 4-1. Marc Gatcomb gave UConn life by scoring with 26 seconds left, only for the team to allow a deathblow two minutes into the final period.
The Huskies didn’t come out of the locker room ready to play in any period and were more than content to roll over at any sign of adversity.
“Quite frankly, the last two games started the same way and we start feeling sorry for ourselves,” Cavanaugh said. “Maybe that’s confidence, maybe not. Instead of playing downhill, we’re playing uphill all game. Unfortunately, we’re letting one goal turn into two goals turn into three goals instead of just saying ‘Okay they scored a goal, let’s get back to what we do well.’ Maybe that’s confidence, I don’t know. I know it’s not the way we wanted to play.”
Despite sleepwalking through the first 21 minutes of the game, Merrimack gifted UConn a golden opportunity. After the Warriors second goal, the Huskies looked like they finally woke up and began playing their normal game. They were rewarded with a goal from Howell and not 20 seconds later, Merrimack’s Zach Uens drew a five-minute major and game misconduct for a vicious hit on Brian Rigali.
Trailing by one goal and guaranteed an extra skater for five minutes, it was UConn’s chance to seize momentum and get back in the game. But what actually happened? The Huskies forced Warrior goaltender Jere Huhtamaa to make just two saves before a penalty by Marc Gatcomb wiped out the final minute of the power play. And instead of being the spark UConn desperately needed, it galvanized Merrimack instead.
“It was key for us,” Merrimack head coach Scott Borek said. “I thought it lifted the whole bench up. You keep see the entire team, when we blocked a couple of shots, they got a little frustrated and our emotion just rose positively.”
After that point, the Warriors outscored the Huskies 4-1 and the home team never got back within single-digits.
Valuable Hockey East points dropped
Very few nights in Hockey East are easy, regardless of either team’s talent level. So when UConn faces one of the weaker teams in the conference, it needs to take advantage and grab as many points as it can. With the win, the Warriors’ conference record rose to 3-6-2, two of those wins are against the Huskies.
UConn now sits precariously tied for eighth in the conference — at the line for the final spot in the Hockey East Tournament — at .83 points per game. By dropping points against Merrimack, the Huskies’ five upcoming games against Maine and UNH (the two teams closest in the standings) become pseudo-playoff series. A win against the Warriors would’ve put UConn alone in sixth place while a tie would’ve given it joint possession of sixth with BU.
There’s still a lot of hockey left to play — 12 conference matchups for the Huskies — but that includes a pair of games against No. 10 UMass and one game each against No. 11 UMass Lowell, No. 12 Providence and No. 13 Northeastern — all one of which are on the road. Tuesday night’s loss gives UConn very little margin of error over the final two months of the season.
- Since taking a 3-1 lead on Dartmouth, UConn has been out-scored 14-3 by opponents.
- The span of 4:58 seconds that the Huskies led in the third period against Dartmouth is also the only time UConn has been ahead in the second half of the season so far.
- Merrimack hadn’t scored six goals in a game in over two calendar years dating back to Nov. 18, 2017.
- Alexander Payusov and Bradley Stone didn’t dress due to illness.
Things don’t get easier from here for UConn, who have to travel to No. 12 Providence on Saturday night. If there’s any silver lining, the Huskies actually perform (relatively) better at Schneider Arena, holding a 2-4-1 record against the Friars on the road compared to an 0-5-1 mark at the XL Center.