Behind one of the best individual performances in the program’s Division I history, UConn men’s hockey took down the Merrimack Warriors 6-2 to earn a six-point sweep.
Jonny Evans scored four goals, the most by a Husky in a single game since the team moved up to Division I ahead of the 1998-99 season.
With the win, Mike Cavanaugh earned his 100th career victory as a head coach while UConn improved to 7-6-2.
“I think one of the hardest things to do in college hockey is to sweep a weekend. You see so many splits because the other team has more energy and they’ve lost the night before. I challenged the team to step up today,” Cavanaugh said postgame. “For lots of parts of the game, I thought we were better in certain areas than we were last night and overall it was a really good win for our team.”
Kale Howarth got the Huskies on the board first with a power play goal less than five minutes in. Merrimack responded later to send the teams into the first intermission tied at 1-1.
It didn’t take UConn long to re-take the lead in the second period, though. Howarth won a puck battle in the corner and slid a pass to Hudson Schandor on the side of the goal. The freshman didn’t have an angle to shoot, so he flicked the puck across the crease to Ryan Tverberg, who backhanded it into the back of the net.
The Huskies scored four more unanswered goals — all of which came from Evans — before the Warriors added an inconsequential score in the final minutes.
For a record-setting performance, Evans’ shots didn’t need to travel to find the twine. All four of his goals came from within close proximity of the net.
“It was Johnny on the spot for a couple of them,” Cavanaugh said.
That isn’t a knock, though. Evans did the dirty work and put himself in positions to score those goals, something his coach didn’t think he could’ve done during his first two seasons.
“He’s done a lot of work [in the] offseason — strength and conditioning. I think that’s the biggest difference: He’s strong right now,” Cavanaugh said. “I thought he got pushed around a little bit his first two years here and now he’s strong. He can play a lot of minutes. He can play in the hard tough areas. I mean, three of his goals came in the hard, tough areas...I give the kid a lot of credit. He’s put the work in and he’s really seeing the rewards for that now.”
Evans started his night in the second period to double the lead. With UConn up 2-1, Vladislav Firstov forced a turnover behind the goal and passed to Jachym Kondelik, who delivered the puck to a wide-open Evans on the back post.
In the third period, the Huskies first took advantage of a delayed penalty when Evans cleaned up a rebound in front of net and notched his second goal of the night. On the ensuing power play, Evans parked himself in front of the net and buried another rebound off a shot from John Spetz to secure his third career hat trick.
Evans capped off his night when Schandor flipped the puck over two Merrimack defensemen and into UConn’s offensive zone. The junior raced in behind and found himself all alone in front of net. He finished the chance with ease.
“‘Hey Jonny, I’d liked to see you do that again next weekend.’ That’s what I say to him (after the game),” Cavanaugh joked.
Even more impressive, all of Evans’ goals came in different situations. The first was at even strength, the second on a delayed penalty, the third during a power play and the fourth shorthanded. The only type he didn’t have was an empty-netter — which wasn’t even possible.
Despite his historic night, Evans quickly deflected all credit away from himself.
“Honestly, it’s my line mates and my team,” Evans said. “We kind of wore them down and then the first one I literally just had to tap in because Kondelik found me. I don’t really know what else to say. My teammates just kind of helped me and found me. I just had one of those nights, I’d say.”
Evans now leads the team with 11 goals, the first UConn player in double digits this season.
UConn buries Merrimack in the third
Though UConn ran away with the game in the end, Merrimack was right in it into the final period.
The Warriors had a golden chance to get within one entering the final 20 minutes when Yan Kuznetsov got a penalty for hitting from behind late in the second period. Once the Huskies killed it off, they were determined to see this one through.
“Jake Flynn — he was one of the kids I heard step up and say ‘We’ve got to finish this game. We’ve got to put it away. We have to keep playing to win a hockey game, not a 3-1 lead.’ To the kids’ credit, I thought they did that pretty well.”
Just over five minutes in, Evans scored to give UConn a comfortable three-goal lead before the junior struck again almost two minutes later to put the game away for good. The Huskies added another for good measure and held such a lead that Merrimack never even bothered to pull its goaltender.
“We just wanted to play a no doubter today and I think we did,” Evans said. “We came out in the third period and were hungry for goals. Everyone had a lot of chances and were going to the net and good things happen. It was good for the team to just put it away in the third.”
Cavanaugh reaches century mark
Cavanaugh reached the first milestone of his career, notching his 100th victory as a head coach — all of which have come at UConn.
“Hopefully the next 100 don’t take as long,” he quipped postgame.
While it took him over seven full seasons to reach the mark, the program’s progress can be seen by splitting those 100 wins nearly in half. It took Cavanaugh 144 games to reach his first 51 wins but 119 to get the next 49 victories.
While Cavanaugh did take a second to reflect, he was happier just to get the win in the context of this season. He also didn’t view it as a personal accomplishment so much as a tribute to some of his first players at UConn.
“I think players win games. Coaches direct direct traffic but players have to win games,” he said. “I think it just speaks to a lot of the players that came here when a program was starting basically from nothing and I really respect and I appreciate all those players that came here when we had five scholarships and 10 scholarships and 14 (scholarships). I’ve had unbelievable leaders, captains in this program. When I reflect on it, I guess I reflect on all those guys that Derek Pratts, Miles Gendrons and Pat Kirklands, Ryan Tysons, Billy Lattas — all these guys who were here before and were a part of it.
“But really I just want to move on and work on 101.”
- UConn scored in the first five minutes (or at least in the first 5:03) of each period.
- UConn is wearing “DR” stickers on the back of its helmets in honor of Dee Rowe, a longtime ambassador for the school who died earlier this month.
Note: UConn did not tweet a video of its first goal.
Hockey East will announced UConn’s opponent for next weekend at 3 p.m. on Tuesday.