UConn men’s hockey couldn’t completely the sweep of the UMass Minutemen on Saturday night, falling 4-3 on the road. The Huskies drop to 15-14-4 (12-9-2 HE) and now sit in fourth place in the conference standings.
Comeback bid falls short
With 3:19 to play in the third period, UConn looked dead and buried. UMass’ John Leonard snuck the puck between Tomas Vomacka and the post to double the Minutemen’s lead, 4-2.
However, UConn answered right back with a backhand flick from Carter Turnbull just 13 seconds later. Suddenly, the Huskies found itself in a familiar position: Trailing by one goal in the closing minutes of the game.
But there would be no late comeback this time. UMass managed the game well and made it difficult for UConn to pull goaltender Tomas Vomacka late by tying up the puck in the corner for over half a minute.
When the Huskies finally got possession and brought Vomacka to the bench, just 48 seconds remained. From there, UConn overwhelmed the Minutemen with a flurry of chances around the crease, throwing six shots at the net. However, the Huskies just couldn’t find a way into the back of the net and UMass walked away with the 4-3 victory.
“We fought right until the to try to tie it,” head coach Mike Cavanaugh said after the game. “I like the fight we had.”
UMass owns the second period
The second period on Saturday was arguably UConn’s worst in its last 10 Hockey East games since starting this run against Maine in January. The Huskies were dominated for 20 minutes by the Minutemen, getting outshot 16-7 and rarely even touched the puck. UConn struggled to clear the zone, leading to volley after volley from UMass.
However, the Huskies survived the onslaught and only allowed a power play goal in the period. Somehow, UConn went into the third period trailing just 2-1.
“In the second period, I thought UMass completely carried the play and quite frankly, I was pretty happy we were only down 2-1 going into the third,” Cavanaugh said.
After dropping a heartbreaker last night, UMass played with a fire and energy that the Huskies didn’t match in the middle 20. UConn didn’t work hard enough to win the puck and the Minutemen locked the Huskies in their defensive zone, which put the onus on Vomacka to keep his team in the game. The sophomore stepped up and held strong, only allowing a power play goal where he was screened by multiple players.
“I thought they were winning the battles. I don’t think it was systematic, they were just winning more puck battles than us,” Cavanaugh said. “Tomas played really well. I thought he played really well in that second period and kept us there 2-1.”
Though UConn weathered the storm as well as it could expect, failing to show up for a period against the No. 8 team in the country isn’t a good recipe to win games, especially in a one-goal game.
“The lesson from our team is you can’t expect to play 40 minutes of hockey in this league and win a game,” Cavanaugh said.
Special teams sink Huskies
As much as UConn was outplayed in the second, it was the Huskies’ special teams play that ultimately proved fatal.
When Ruslan Iskhakov went to the box in the second period for high sticking, UMass’ domination combined with UConn’s dreadful penalty kill — which ranks second to last in the nation — made a power play goal almost a foregone conclusion. Forty-six seconds in, expectation became reality when the Minutemen found the back of the net to go ahead 2-1.
On the flip side, UConn's power play struggled to generate much through three power plays, putting just four shots on target. But in the third period, the Huskies got a minute-long 5-on-3 after UMass’ Marc Del Gaizo and Jake Gaudet went to the box.
With a two-man advantage, UConn’s power play finally woke up and peppered the net with shots. The Huskies had a few grade-A chances in a row — highlighted by a wide-open Ben Freeman on the back post — but UMass goaltender Matt Murray denied UConn time and time again.
“We have the 5-on-3 and I thought it was great,” Cavanaugh said. “We executed. You have to tip your hat to Murray, he made some ridiculous saves. Sometimes that happens.”
While coming away empty on the 5-on-3 will hurt the most, UConn had five power plays on the night and failed to score on any of them. Meanwhile, the Minutemen converted on one of just two opportunities on the night, which proved to be the difference.
UConn GOAL!!! Jonny Evans ties it up at 1-1, burying a rebound in front. #IceBus pic.twitter.com/1nbuZ1hHyr— UConn Men's Hockey (@UConnMHOC) March 1, 2020
UConn GOALLLL!!!!!! Huskies tie it up at 2-2 as frosh Jake Flynn buries one!#IceBus pic.twitter.com/I82NjsjBzh— UConn Men's Hockey (@UConnMHOC) March 1, 2020
UConn GOAL!!!! We aren't done yet! Turnbull quickly answers. Back to a one-goal game. #IceBus pic.twitter.com/rdO2EGb3to— UConn Men's Hockey (@UConnMHOC) March 1, 2020
- The loss eliminates UConn from contention for second place in the conference. We’ll go more in-depth in the playoff scenarios later this week but ultimately, the Huskies need a win or tie in the season finale at UMass Lowell to clinch home ice without help from other teams.
- Jonny Evans and Adam Karashik both went off with injuries during the game, though they eventually returned.
- This is UConn’s first regulation loss in conference play since Jan. 11 when it fell 2-1 at Providence.
UConn closes the regular season on Friday at UMass Lowell. Puck drop is set for 7:15 at the Tsongas Center with playoff implications on the line for both squads.