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UConn men’s hockey beats UNH in overtime, 6-5

The Huskies fell apart late in the third period but recovered to earn the win.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

UConn men’s hockey earned a thrilling 6-5 overtime victory against the UNH Wildcats on Friday night at Freitas Ice Forum. The Huskies took two of three possible points and improved to 4-5-1 with the win.

Carter Turnbull scored the game-winner in overtime, capping off his first career hat trick. Vladislav Firstov scored two goals in his return from World Juniors while Jonny Evans added one as well.

Huskies come out with a win

While UConn secured its first overtime victory of the season, it let a point slip away by letting a third-period lead slip away.

The Huskies had a 5-3 lead with five minutes left and seemed to be on their way to a regulation win considering they hadn’t give up a goal since the first period. However, UNH clawed back within one off the stick of Ryan Verrier with 4:38 to play.

The Wildcats pulled goaltender Mike Robinson with 2:04 left in search of the equalizer. However, the aggressive decision seemed to backfire when Brian Rigali found himself on a break towards the empty net. He got himself directly in front of goal but somehow couldn’t finish — keeping UNH alive.

“The puck looked like it might have jumped on him a little bit,” Mike Cavanaugh said postgame about Rigali’s miss. “Their guy dove and [Rigali] was trying to protect the puck and he tried to pull it to his forehand and that happens.”

The Wildcats made UConn pay. Verrier threw a shot on net which bounced off Vomacka. Filip Engaras put the rebound in to tie the game at 5 with just 35 seconds left.

For the second time in as many games, the Huskies blew a third period lead to UNH and the two teams went into 3-on-3 overtime. Though UConn had failed to win in the extra time this season, Turnbull helped his team flip the script.

Jachym Kondelik won a face-off in the Huskies’ offensive zone and got the puck to Adam Karashik. The senior captain skated along the blue line towards the far boards and eventually brought the puck behind the net. He slipped it to Turnbull, who fired a quick one-timer past Robinson to give UConn the sudden death victory.

“We’ve got to learn to be better and put teams away when we’re in those positions,” Cavanaugh said. “But on the flip side, I liked our resiliency. Because it was a similar situation the last time we played them and we spoke about it and we said that we have to be aggressive at 3-on-3 and we’ve got to embrace playing 3-on-3 overtime. I thought our guys did that. Adam made a terrific play and Carter’s shot — that was a pro shot.”

While the Huskies should’ve come away with all three points, they still fought back to reverse their overtime fortunes and avoid total disaster by finding the game-winner in the extra period.

Offensive explosion

In UConn’s first nine games this season, the team failed to score more than three goals in a single game. The Huskies hit the back of the net three times in the first period Friday night.

Half the credit goes to a resurgent Turnbull, who notched a hat trick after scoring just two goals all season prior to the win. The junior, who tied for the team lead with 12 goals last year, attributed the breakout performance to a change in mindset.

“I was struggling a little bit at the start of the season to find the back of the net,” Turnbull said. “Something that Coach and I worked on [was] just coming down a little more in the mornings and working on kind of shooting low and hitting the net more and I think it kind of got my confidence up a little bit.”

UConn also got a big boost from the return of Firstov from the World Juniors Tournament. He had a hand in four goals, scoring two and assisting a pair. Firstov was attacking all night long with three or four more grade-A chances that didn’t end up in the back of the net.

“Vlad had two beautiful goals,” Turnbull said. “He just brings a lot of pace, a lot of speed and skill that I think we were missing a little bit and it’s great to have him back.”

While the sophomore didn’t single-handedly fix the Huskies’ various offensive issues, his presence provided a much-needed spark.

“He’s a dynamic player,” Cavanaugh said. “I think he was really excited to get back here because while he played over in the World Juniors, he didn’t play the type of minutes he sees here so I think he had a lot of jump and was excited to play.”

Firstov also helped a power play that had been dreadful all season long. Coming into the game, UConn had scored just three times in 42 chances. But against UNH, the Huskies found the back of the net twice on four power-play opportunities, easily the unit’s best showing of the year.

“[Firstov] certainly helps our power play and that was evident tonight,” Cavanaugh said. “I thought our power play probably looked the best it’s looked all year long. Even the ones we didn’t score on, we had some pretty good looks.”

Tverberg debuts

UConn’s win also saw the debut of highly-touted freshman Ryan Tverberg. Though he originally signed to join the Huskies as part of their 2021 class, the NCAA’s decision to give all winter athletes an extra year of eligibility opened the door for Tverberg to arrive early.

He arrived in Storrs just after Christmas but didn’t complete his quarantine until a few days before UConn’s last series with UNH, so he didn’t dress. But with the Huskies in search of goals, Cavanaugh thought the fast and explosive Tverberg could help.

“We were having trouble scoring goals and I wanted to give him a shot and see if he could help us in that,” the coach explained. “It’s always one thing in practice. It’s not the same (as a game) because we go hard in practice but you still don’t play like you play against another opponent. I wanted to see what he could do and I thought he acclimated himself very well tonight.”

Though Tverberg didn’t end up on the scoresheet, he still showed flashes of his dynamism and ability to wreak havoc in the offensive zone. He put two shots on net and also drew a penalty in the second period.

“I thought he was awesome,” Turnbull said of the freshman. “I thought he was moving his feet, making plays. He had a couple chances — he almost had a breakaway. It’s a tough jump from juniors to college and I think he did a great job. I’m excited to see what he has for us the rest of the season.”

Quote of note

Turnbull on his second goal, which came from an almost impossible angle on the side of net: “I didn’t see a whole lot. I saw maybe a little bit of a hole between him (the UNH goaltender) and the post and I just kind of shot. I was expecting a rebound honestly but it was just lucky enough to find the back of the net for me.”

Other notes

  • UConn only got two full team practices leading up to the game. The Huskies practiced in small group pods on Monday but moved to full team practices on Tuesday and Wednesday after they learned the positive test which shut them down last week was a false negative. However, they “couldn’t” practice on Thursday, according to Cavanaugh, though he didn’t state a reason. That would’ve been the day UConn went over its penalty kill.
  • UNH lost Angus Crookshank, one of the team’s leading goal scorers, on the first shift of the game. He did not return due to an upper-body injury.
  • Turnbull on the return of Yan Kuznetsov: “Yan is a machine. He’s built like a house.”

Up next

UConn will head up to Durham, New Hampshire for the second game of the series against UNH. Puck drop is set for 5 p.m. on SportsLive.