In a tight back and forth affair, UConn men’s hockey gave up a late goal en route to a 2-1 loss to the No. 15 UMass Lowell River Hawks. The Huskies fall to 1-3-1 on the season.
Puck luck favors UMass Lowell
Prior to the game, UConn head coach Mike Cavanaugh had a prophetic message for his team.
“Before the game started I told the kids, ‘If it’s any indication of how our last games have gone against Lowell, it’s going to be a one-goal game and we’re going to have to make a play late in the third period to win a hockey game,” he relayed.
UMass Lowell opened the scoring on a power-play goal in the first period before the Huskies responded with one from Carter Turnbull to tie things up in the second. That led to a hard-fought third period with both teams getting grade-A chances on the net.
The River Hawks found the game-winner late in the third period. After a puck battle along the boards in UConn’s end, the Huskies tried to clear the zone. However, the puck took a bizarre bounce and landed right on the stick of Zach Kaiser in front of goal, who buried it past Tomas Vomacka to give UMass Lowell a 2-1 lead with 2:50 to play.
“They made the play late in the game,” Cavanaugh said. “They won a scrum battle and the puck took a funny bounce and went way up in the air and I think Jachym (Kondelik) lost sight of where the puck was and the kid made a terrific shot to win the hockey game.”
To compound issues, UConn’s Marc Gatcomb got whistled for a cross-checking penalty at the same time, which put the Huskies down a man for all but the final 50 seconds. UConn couldn’t pull Vomacka until the 40-second mark. The Huskies never found the equalizer they needed.
Cavanaugh proud of the team’s performance
UConn’s Hockey East history is scattered with examples of the Huskies earning a big victory only to put forth a disappointing effort the next time out. After knocking off No. 2 Boston College last weekend, the letdown potential for UConn was high.
“You come off a pretty big win against Boston College and I think in the past we’ve had the tendency to read our press clippings and not play as well the next time we go out and play,” Cavanaugh said. “That was not the case tonight.”
Though the result wasn’t favorable, the Huskies responded with another strong performance. Unfortunately, the bounces just didn’t go their way.
“I was pretty happy with our compete level and how we played in this game,” Cavanaugh said. “In Hockey East, the margin of error is so slim and tonight they made one more play than we did.”
Statistically, it was an even game. UConn had the slight edge in shots (32-26) but both teams had four penalties and both converted on one power play. The Huskies won 36 face-offs to the River Hawks’ 34.
Cavanaugh often says he’s less concerned with results than he is with how his team performs. On Monday night, UConn played even with the No. 15 team in the country — just as it did with the No. 2 and No. 10 teams, respectively, earlier this year.
“It was a good hockey hockey game,” Cavanaugh said. “If we keep competing like that on a consistent basis, we’re going to win more than we lose.”
UConn leaves UMass Lowell black and blue
Though UConn always plays a physical brand of hockey, the Huskies took it to a new level against the River Hawks. UConn pounded UMass Lowell at every opportunity and sent plenty of River Hawks down to the ice. Nick Capone, Kale Howarth and Adam Karashik led the charge and delivered plenty of bone-crushing hits throughout the night.
“I think that’s just part of our DNA, who we are as a team,” Cavanaugh said. “That’s just part of our identity. That’s how we play. I think when we play that way, we create more scoring chances because when you knock a guy over, he’s out of the play and you can beat him to the net.”
UConn’s physicality visibly frustrated the River Hawks, who tried to retaliate after the whistle. If the Huskies can continue to beat up teams the way they did against UMass Lowell, they’ll make life miserable for their opponents — especially in standard two-game series.
UConn will have a day off on Tuesday before it returns to action with a trip up to Amherst to face the UMass Minutemen. Puck drop is set for 3:30 p.m. on NESN.