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UConn men’s hockey rebounds with 2-0 win over No. 15 Providence

The Huskies stopped a two-game losing skid and earned their first shutout in two seasons.

Courtesy of Stephen Slade/UConn Athletic Communications

UConn men’s hockey gutted out a 2-0 win over the No. 15 Providence Friars in the Huskies’ final action of 2020. They improve to 2-4-1 on the season and in conference play.

“I don’t think it was pretty but I think it was gutsy,” Mike Cavanaugh said postgame.

After a scoreless first period, Adam Karashik got UConn on the board with his first goal in 81 games, dating all the way back to his freshman campaign. In the third period, Jonny Evans doubled the lead with an impressive goal from a near impossible angle.

Shutout drought snapped

UConn picked up its first shutout since Feb. 9, 2019 — a 5-0 win over Merrimack. The Huskies didn’t hold a single opponent scoreless all of last season.

“Who’s counting, right?” Cavanaugh joked after the game.

Despite putting up a zero on the scoreboard, UConn’s defense was far from lights out. Providence still fired 37 shots on net and carried play for stretches — particularly in the second period.

“Providence did hit a couple pipes,” Cavanaugh added. “I thought [Tyce] Thompson’s (shot) in the first period was a grade-A chance we can’t give up.”

The Huskies did excel in limiting second chances, though. Goaltender Tomas Vomacka corralled rebounds well and the defense cleared out any pucks that did end up back in front of net. It wasn’t perfect, but UConn did enough to keep the Friars off the board.

“Too many shots from my liking,” Cavanaugh said. “But it’s an area where I think as long as it’s one and done and not continual whacks at the puck, you can survive that a lot of times.”

Unique special team success

Despite coming off a miserable night at UMass where UConn allowed a goal on half its penalty kill attempts and came up empty handed on five power play chances, the Huskies didn’t overhaul their special teams’ systems. In fact, they did just the opposite.

“Dan Muse, who used to coach for Nashville, Tyler [Helton] and I listened to him speak. They had a great penalty kill in Nashville and one night, I forget who it was, lit them up and then they had Tampa Bay coming in the next night...(Muse said) you have to stay with what you’re doing and believe in what you’re doing. You can’t just go change everything because one team got the best of you one night.”

So against a red-hot Providence power play that had scored on five of its last 13 opportunities coming in, UConn stuck to its guns and went 4-4 on the penalty kill — with three of those penalties coming in the first period alone.

“They were good. They were in shot lanes, they took away our top and we weren’t able to get the puck down to the net. We had one where we got it down to Parker (Ford) on the side of the net but they did a good job,” acting Providence head coach Ron Rolston said of UConn’s penalty kill. “They were sitting on Tyce (Thompson) and the other two guys weren’t able to get pucks down there. So I thought they did a nice job of taking away what we do well on it and certainly we needed it early in that game to score.”

While UConn’s power play didn’t score on its four opportunities, it only had two true chances on the night. A Jake Flynn penalty wiped out the Huskies’ third power play while the fourth occurred late in the third period, which created a unique situation.

With UConn holding onto a 2-0 lead, Providence’s Nick Poisson got a major penalty and game misconduct for delivering an elbow to Karashik’s head. With just 2:43 to play, that meant the Huskies would have an extra player for the remainder of the game. However, the two sides evened up in terms of skaters at 5v5 after the Friars pulled their goalie with just under 90 seconds to play.

That didn’t last long, though. Providence picked up another penalty with 1:11 after Marc Gatcomb got taken down on the blue line just before a breakaway on the empty net. That gave UConn a 5-on-3 power play and ended the Friars’ already faint hopes of a comeback.

“When the puck came down our end, they pulled the goalie and then it was 5-on-5 so it wasn’t your typical power play,” Cavanaugh said. “You want to make sure that you just make a good play to end the game and I think they did that.”

Though special teams might’ve been a wash on the stat sheet, they played a key role in helping UConn secure the victory.

Injuries pile up

What’s even more impressive about UConn’s victory is the fact that the Huskies played the entire third period with just 10 forwards. In the second period, Eric Linell lost his balance, fell backwards and hit the ice hard. He needed to be helped off the ice and went straight into the locker room. Soon after, Kale Howarth skated to the bench in pain after a big collision and went into the locker room during the next stoppage.

Linell eventually returned to the bench but didn’t go back into the game. Howarth wasn’t spotted again.

Cavanaugh expects Linell to be okay and believed he could’ve played if necessary, but the coaches wanted to air on the side of caution. As for Howarth, Cavanaugh didn’t have an update.

“I’m not sure yet. The doc hasn’t said anything to me but [Howarth] looked like he was in a lot of pain. I’m not sure what he even hurt,” Cavanaugh said. “So he’s being looked at by the doctors. I don’t have an answer for you.”

Goals

Next up

UConn will have a shorter turnover than usual with a series against the New Hampshire Wildcats coming up this weekend. The Huskies will travel to Durham on New Years’ Day for a 4:00 p.m. puck drop followed by a 4:00 p.m. game at Freitas Ice Forum the next day.