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UConn men’s hockey defeats BU, 6-1

The Huskies cap the weekend with the best period in the history of the program, according to their head coach, and get a sweep over Boston University in their weekend series.

UConn’s Alexander Payusov shoots for his third goal of the game in the 6-1 win over BU.
Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

Following a 4-3 comeback win on Friday night, UConn men’s hockey put a commanding beatdown on the BU Terriers on Saturday, 6-1, to earn the series sweep.

Explosive third period

Last night in Hartford, BU entered the third period with a one-goal lead. The Terriers chose to try to kill the game off by continually dumping the puck into UConn’s zone and relying on their defense to win the game. That strategy worked for 19:04 before the Huskies broke through and scored the game-tying goal with 56 second left.

UConn learned from the mistake of its opponent. The Huskies took a 2-1 lead into the final period and instead of sitting back and trying to drain the clock, they took the game to BU and bludgeoned the Terriers to death with four goals.

“I thought that third period was the best period I’ve seen a UConn hockey team play since I’ve been here,” UConn head coach Mike Cavanaugh said. “I was really proud of their effort and determination all period.”

Sasha Payusov set the tone early with a goal 41 seconds in and the Huskies never looked back. Five and half minutes later, Payusov struck again and put UConn up three with a breakaway finish.

However, the Huskies didn’t let up there. Benjamin Freeman buried a back post one-timer that drove the nail in the coffin before Justin Howell added one more for good measure with 48 seconds to play.

Despite holding a narrow margin entering the final frame, UConn left no doubt by the time the final buzzer sounded.

Payusov caps big weekend

Sasha Payusov couldn’t stay long after the game to talk about the win. He was about to see his family for the first time in months after they made the trek down from Montreal, Quebec to watch the game in Boston. And Payusov made sure the trip was worth it for them.

The senior forward recorded the second hat trick of his career by notching a goal in the second period and two more in the third period to help deliver his team the series sweep. The performance came after Payusov gave his team the win in overtime on Friday night with a tap-in goal.

Cavanaugh complimented the forward’s entire performance, though he specifically highlighted Payusov’s second goal. The senior grabbed the puck on his own blue line and carried it all the way up the ice while pursued by one defender. Though he didn’t have a great angle, Payusov ripped a shot past the defenseman’s stick and found the back of the net.

“Sasha had a great game,” Cavanaugh said. “That goal he scored at the beginning of the third period was huge for us. He works on that every day with (assistant coach) Tyler Helton. Tyler holds a stick and he shoots through the stick. It was nice to see him get rewarded for all that hard work.”

However, Payusov was quick to deflect the credit for each of his goals off to his teammates.

“We’ve had a lot of chemistry growing with my linemates,” he said. “They got the puck to me in good situations and I found the back of the net.”

Huskies don’t let history repeat

On Friday night, UConn used its overtime loss to Maine the previous weekend to help propel itself to victory against BU. In the second game of the series, the Huskies again brought up the past as a source of motivation.

Last season, UConn took down BU in overtime at the XL Center on a Friday — ironically, also on a Payusov goal less than a minute into the extra period. But the next night, the Huskies fell flat and dropped a 2-0 decision to the Terriers, a loss which eliminated UConn from playoff contention.

That defeat stuck with the upperclassmen and before to this game, they told the team it wasn’t going to happen again.

“Our team captains talked to the team before the game about last year,” Cavanaugh said. “We won a game in overtime and we came here and lost 2-0, a hard fought game and they said we have to get over that hump, we can’t be splitting weekends. We have to be hungry to sweep.”

While UConn gained the upper hand with the first goal of the night, it was the defense that carried the team through the first two periods. The defensemen were cohesive together and kept pucks away from goaltender Tomas Vomacka by getting sticks in the lanes and poking pucks away before dangerous scoring chances could develop.

However, when BU did get behind the defense, Vomacka was there to clean up almost all the mistakes.

“I thought we played some pretty good team defense,” Cavanaugh said. “I didn’t think we gave up a lot of grade-A chances but when we needed him to make a save, he made a save.”

Hockey East history

With the win, UConn improves to 11-8-2 in Hockey East play, giving them 24 points in the standings. That’s the Huskies highest total ever — surpassing the previous mark of 23 points set during the 2017-18 season — and there’s still three games left to play in the season.

But as impressive as a milestone as that is in the program’s ascent, Cavanaugh wasn’t in a mood to celebrate after the game.

“It’s important to get 26 (points),” he said with a wry smile. “That’s what’s important for us right now. Maybe at the end of the year, we’ll reflect on how this season was but we have a long way to go. We have a lot of hockey in front of us.”

UConn goals

Other notes

  • With the series sweep, UConn improves to 14-13-4 on the season, marking the first time it’s over .500 since the opening weekend of the second half back in December. This is also the latest the Huskies have held a winning record since joining Hockey East.
  • UConn is tied with UMass Lowell for fourth place in Hockey East with 24 points. If the season ended today, the Huskies would be hosting the River Hawks in the conference tournament at the XL Center. Here’s a full look at the standings:

Next up

UConn will looking to keep it rolling next weekend when it takes on second place UMass. The Huskies will first host the Minutemen on Friday night before making the return trip to Amherst on Saturday.