UConn men’s hockey dismantled the UNH Wildcats, 8-3 behind four power play goals. The Huskies take five of six points on the weekend and improve to 5-5-1 on the season.
UConn went ahead by one goal twice in the first period but UNH clawed back both times to tie the game. The two teams went into the first intermission locked at 2-2 and it stayed that way for most of the middle stanza before the Huskies broke through with a pair of goals in the last 90 seconds of the period. In the third, UConn scored four goals to the Wildcats’ one to put the game away for good.
Offensive turnaround continues
UConn carried over its strong offensive effort from Friday night into Saturday, dropping eight goals on the Wildcats — the most the Huskies have scored in a single game since an 8-1 beatdown against UMass on Dec. 5, 2018.
UConn’s 14 goals on the weekend are also tied for the most in back-to-back games in its Hockey East era (ironically, the other occurrence was last season against UNH). It’s a remarkable offensive turnaround for a team that only found the back of the net 17 times in its first nine games.
UConn had a balanced attack on Saturday night as well. 12 players recorded a point but none had more than two. Jonny Evans and Hudson Schandor both found the back of the net twice while Brian Rigali, John Spetz, Ryan Wheeler and newcomer Ryan Tvernberg scored as well.
Meanwhile, Jake Flynn, Jachym Kondelik and Artem Shlaine all notched a pair of assists while Carter Berger, Vladislav Firstov, Marc Gatcomb, Yan Kuznetsov and Rigali all added one as well.
Though some credit goes to Firstov and Tverberg for adding a spark to the lineup, Mike Cavanaugh had a simple explanation for the crooked number on the scoreboard.
“We have to stay committed to doing the right things in the offensive zone,” he said. “Winning battles and kicking it to the point, getting it to the net and retrieving and piling up multiple shots shifts. When you do that, you’ll eventually score goals.”
Special teams step up
Cavanaugh added one more part to that quote, though.
“Of course, scoring on the power play is going to help you put goals on the board every night,” he said.
UConn certainly got plenty of production from the power play. The Huskies scored four times (on seven chances) with the extra skater, their most since a 5-2 win over BU way back on Oct. 27, 2015. It’s even more impressive considering UConn only had five power play goals all season entering Saturday’s game.
The Huskies have now scored at least one power play goal in each of their last three games.
“I think our power plays been really starting to turn the corner. When we play with pace and we shoot the puck, good things happen,” Cavanaugh said. “Power plays are streaky and the one thing that a power play can’t do is lose your momentum and in the last four games we’ve played, I don’t think our power play has lost its momentum. Now, we’re starting to see the fruits of their hard work.”
Three of UConn’s power play goals came during the final period, which buried the Wildcats and crushed any thoughts of another comeback. That was especially important considering in the Huskies’ previous two games, they failed to hold a lead in the final period and dropped points because of it.
However, UConn’s penalty kill also deserves credit, holding UNH scoreless on its four power play attempts. The unit came up especially big early in the third period when the Huskies got two penalties back-to-back while only up two goals. If the Wildcats scored on either of those chances, the third period would’ve almost certainly played out differently.
But UConn held strong and shortly after the second penalty ran out, Evans drove the dagger home to put the Huskies up three. The lead only ballooned from there.
“[The penalty kill] was a big part because the game’s 4-2 there and we take back to back penalties,” Cavanaugh said. “I thought Tomas [Vomacka] made some big saves. He killed some shots by smothering them and not leaving rebounds and our PK came up with some good blocks as well.”
- UNH was without five key players: Angus Crookshank, Cam Gendron, Benton Maass, Eric McAdams and Charlie Kelleher.
- This was only the fifth time in UConn’s Hockey East history that it’s scored more than seven goals in a game.
- The Huskies are at .500 for the first time this season and move into fifth place in the conference standings by percentage of points earned (.545).
UMass Lowell is next on UConn’s schedule but that series seems unlikely to happen considering the River Hawks paused team activities due to a positive COVID test within the program on Jan. 8.