UConn men’s hockey registered its most dominant win of the year on Friday night, crushing the Merrimack Warriors, 6-1, and improving its record to 6-6-2.
For the first time this season, UConn entered the first intermission with a lead. Harrison Rees and Hudson Schandor scored within a minute of each other to give the Huskies a quick lead. Vlad Firstov added to it 10 seconds into the second period before two power-play goals from Carter Turnbull gave the Huskies a 5-0 advantage.
Merrimack got on the board just before the second intermission but it proved to be inconsequential. Rees added another goal in the third period to get UConn to its total.
“I thought we came out and played a good road hockey game tonight,” head coach Mike Cavanaugh said postgame.
Offense from everywhere
UConn’s six-goal performance is the Huskies’ second-most in regulation this season. On Friday afternoon, it came from four different scorers. Six players recorded a multi-point performance while 11 players made the scoresheet.
The Huskies’ quick 2-0 lead prompted Merrimack head coach Scott Borek to pull starting goaltender Zachary Borgiel for Jere Huhtamaa in the first period.
UConn also got plenty of production from the blue line. Rees scored twice, Adam Karashik and Yan Kuznetsov both added two assists and John Spetz notched a helper as well.
“(Assistant coach) Tyler Helton works with the defenseman, he’s been doing a lot of work with them on getting pucks down to the net,” Cavanaugh said. “Yan made a great pass to Vlad. Harry (Rees) joined the play twice and got two good looks and got shots on net. I was really happy with the way we were able to get pucks down to the net.”
It was a particularly impressive performance from Rees, who had been inactive for two of the Huskies’ last four games. Roman Kinal was out with a knee injury, so Rees made the lineup as the extra skater and took advantage of his opportunity.
“I feel we have eight defensemen that can play and sometimes guys have to sit out because there’s eight good ones,” Cavanaugh said. “Today Harrison came back into the lineup and... played extremely well. But it doesn’t surprise me because he’s been a really good player for us the past couple of years.”
After UConn failed to score more than three goals in any of its first nine games, the Huskies have now surpassed that mark in four of their last five games.
Special teams dominate
UConn’s special teams had one of their best performances of the season. The Huskies converted 2-6 power-play chances, both of which came during a 5:33 stretch in the second period.
First, Conor Lovett received a five-minute major and game misconduct for a hit that sent Firstov crashing head-first into the boards. One minute into the extended power play, the Warriors went to the box again for a slash, giving UConn a two-minute 5-on-3.
The Huskies capitalized on the two-man advantage when Turnbull collected his own rebound and fired the second-chance effort into the back of the net to extend the lead to 4-0.
Then with 30 seconds left on the major, Merrimack picked up a cross-checking penalty which gifted UConn another 5-on-3. The first penalty ran out but still left the Huskies with an extra skater. Firstov received a cross-ice pass on the near post and quickly delivered the puck to Turnbull, who buried a one-timer that put UConn up by five.
The Huskies have now scored at least one power-play goal in five of their last six games, going 10-30 in that span. Cavanaugh credited associate head coach Joe Pereira with the improvement of this unit.
“We were struggling in the first half of the year but he’s done a lot of work with them and focused on getting pucks to the net,” Cavanaugh said. “I think a lot of power plays when they struggle, they get too fancy and it doesn’t have to be too complicated. I think it’s really important to get volume to the net on the power play and that creates rebounds, that creates scrambles... I think that was the case tonight.”
Firstov’s score, while not officially counted as such, was essentially another power-play goal since it came just three seconds after a Merrimack penalty expired.
Meanwhile, UConn got called for a season-low three penalties — one of which came in the final 17 seconds. Merrimack generated very little on either of its full power plays as the Huskies killed them with ease. UConn’s penalty kill has now pitched a shutdown in four straight games — a total of 28 penalty minutes.
- UConn held Merrimack to just 20 shots — a season-best for the Huskies.
- With two goals, Turnbull is up to eight on the season, making him the team’s new leading goal-scorer.
- UConn is exactly 3-3-1 on the road and at home this season.
- Merrimack did not have leading scorer Alex Jefferies or Max Newton due to COVID protocols.
“They both ran into some protocol issues with the testing,” Borek said postgame. “Two different things were going on but Ryan and Alex were able to re-test on Thursday, which could allow them to play on Saturday. We didn’t know there was a problem with Max until late last night – actually early this morning – and that didn’t allow him to get the test done on Thursday.”
The two teams will square off again on Saturday at Freitas Ice Forum. Puck drop is set for 3:00 p.m. on SportsLive.