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UConn hockey mounts epic Senior Night comeback to take down UMass, 3-2

The Huskies scored two goals late in the third period to take down the Minutemen.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

The UConn men’s hockey team battled in every facet of their stunning 3-2 win over No. 8 UMass, as they nabbed two late goals to steal the game and clinch a spot in the Hockey East tournament.

In front of a packed house of UConn faithful, the Huskies gave them a show.

“It says it was 6,700 people here, it felt like a lot more,” head coach Mike Cavanaugh said. “That was about as loud as that building’s been since I’ve been here when we tied it up and then when [Kale Howarth] scored with eight seconds left.”

UConn waits until the final two minutes to steal everyone’s heart:

UMass’ goaltender Filip Lindberg had his fair share of shot attempts to deal with as the Huskies threw 38 at him. But it was the last few that earned UConn the two points they needed to walk out of the XL Center, potentially for the final time this season, with a win.

For the first 58 minutes of Friday’s game against the Minutemen, UConn had every opportunity to pull away. They rattled shot after shot toward the net but just couldn’t square one away. There were shots fluttered onto the top of the net, lightning bolt backhands wide and pucks that seemed to just miss sticks.

“Overall, it was pretty solid for three periods,” Cavanaugh said post-game. “We were double digits in shots every period and I thought we defended pretty well too. That’s a really good hockey team. It’s going to be even tougher tomorrow up there. They’re a great team at home. As far as this game’s concerned, with the exception of losing the special teams game, I was really happy with the effort and the result.”

With just 1:31 to go in the third period, Marc Gatcomb picked up a loose puck deep into the UMass defensive zone and buried at Lindberg’s stick side, tying the score at 2-2.

Then just 1:23 later, Howarth picked up a rebound on a Carter Berger shot and sealed the UConn victory.

One line scored all three UConn goals

Even though it was senior night in Hartford, it was the younger guys that brought their offensive A-game. The Gatcomb, Howarth and Jachym Kondelik forward line with Berger and Harrison Rees provided all of UConn’s scoring on the night and they each finished with a plus-3.

“One of the things come playoff time, you need to have length up and down your lineup. Against UNH it was [Ruslan] Iskhakov’s line scoring all the points and then [Ben Freeman]’s line on fire. Tonight, it was Kondelik’s line that was carrying the play,” Cavanaugh said.

Berger, a fourth-round pick of the Florida Panthers in the 2019 NHL Draft, started the scoring in the second period after the first blew by with little noise. It was the second goal of his freshman campaign.

Berger fired one in from around the middle of the red circle past Lindberg to give the Huskies a 1-0 eight minutes into the second period. After UMass took the lead with a goal in each of the second and third periods, Berger was credited with assists on the two others. Before Friday, he went 12 games without registering a point.

Gatcomb secured his second point in as many nights with the tying goal. He assisted Zac Robbins’ opening goal against Boston University on Saturday in their 6-1 drubbing of the Terriers in Boston. On the year, Gatcomb has consistently chipped in offensively, averaging a point every 2.7 games.

“They’re all big, and they’re heavy and they made it tough on their defensemen tonight because they didn’t try to do anything too cute,” Cavanaugh said. “They got pucks behind their D and played to their strengths.”

Howarth, a 6-foot-4 sophomore from Alberta, Canada, had an opportunity at goal early on in the third but his backhand shot flew wide. Once the score was knotted at two a side, Howarth had another chance and didn’t miss the second time.

UConn’s defense plays well

Even with a depleted UMass attacking front with injuries to Mitchell Chaffee, Cal Kiefuk and Philip Lagunov, UConn spent most of the game in its offensive zone. UMass attempted nearly half the shots UConn did, with 36 total and just 23 on target.

“I don’t think we did anything revolutionary,” Cavanaugh said. “I think we skated, we got pucks deep, we tried to hound pucks and get pucks to the net. They are a real good team, when they get the puck in our zone, we try to protect the front of our net.”

They were energized and closed attackers down well throughout the game. Cavanaugh also mentioned that UConn limited their turnovers in the neutral zone, which is key against an offensively potent team.

UConn forced UMass to single-digit shots in each of the three periods, with eight, nine and six, respectively. Their only kryptonite was forward John Leonard, who netted a goal just under 14 minutes into the second and again nine minutes into the third period. His 26 goals lead the nation and he has scored .84 goals per game this season, which also leads Division I hockey.

Other notes

  • Tomas Vomacka allowed his first third-period goal in four games on the Leonard power play goal. The last time he gave one up was in the 7-4 bludgeoning of New Hampshire on Feb. 1, when he gave up two. He also had 38 saves that night.
  • UConn, 12-8-2 in Hockey East, is in second place in the conference, for now at least. They pulled into second with the two points Friday, tying UMass with 26 on the year and currently hold the tiebreaker. That can change with a loss Saturday.

Next up

Now that UConn has won its final regular season home game, they will travel to Amherst to take on UMass once again. The game starts at 8 p.m. and will be available to watch on NESNPlus. After that they will finish out the season on the road against UMass Lowell next Friday at 6 p.m.