UConn men’s hockey opened its season with a 6-3 victory over the Sacred Heart Pioneers — the Huskies were ahead by one goal before a pair of empty-net goals in the final 46 seconds.
“I don’t think it was the best game we could have played but we got it done which is the most important,” Jachym Kondelik said.
Vladislav Firstov opened the scoring on UConn’s first shot of the season just 1:05 in but Sacred Heart tied it up a few minutes later. The Huskies the lead back in the final minute of the first period on a power-play goal from Ryan Tverberg and added another from Firstov midway through the second to make it 3-1.
The tide quickly turned, however, as Sacred Heart answered back with a pair of scores to tie the game at 3-3 entering the third period. With just over seven minutes to play, Jachym Kondelik finished a beautiful backhanded wrap-around goal to put the Huskies ahead for good.
Sacred Heart pulled its goaltender with a minute left but Kevin O’Neil and Marc Gatcomb both recorded empty netters to put the game away.
“I thought it was a good win for our team,” UConn head coach Mike Cavanaugh said.
UConn dominates on special teams
Each of UConn’s special teams units dominated. The Huskies committed four penalties (all in the first two periods) but they held strong and didn’t give up a single power-play goal.
“We couldn’t solve their pressure,” Sacred Heart head coach CJ Marottolo said.
“We did a good job pressuring and taking away time and space,” Cavanaugh said. “Even pressuring down ice, we were able to upset the rhythm of their power play breakout and they really weren’t able to attack with a bunch of speed coming into our zone.”
On the other side, UConn only had one power play but took full advantage. The Huskies won the initial face-off and made a few quick passes before Hudson Schandor found Tverberg across the ice, who buried his shot top corner.
At the end of the game, UConn held Sacred Heart in its own zone for an extended stretch which forced the Pioneers to keep their goaltender in net in the final two minutes. They finally pulled him with a minute left but the Huskies made them pay when O’Neil beat a defender along the boards and finished the empty-net chance from the blue line.
Still chasing the deficit, Sacred Heart again pulled its goalie but UConn’s aggressive defense paid off when Gatcomb intercepted a pass and took it the length of the ice for sixth goal of the night.
“When they pulled the goalie, I thought we executed very well and got the two empty netters and were able to seal the game,” Cavanaugh said.
UConn scored three special-teams goals — one power play and two empty netters — while Sacred Heart failed to score any. That proved to be the difference in the 6-3 game.
Hanson wins in debut
After winning the goalie competition in the preseason, Darion Hanson saved 28 of 31 shots he faced and also added his first career assist.
Hanson could’ve done better on Sacred Heart’s first goal — he got beat glove-side on a relatively clear shot from far out — but he owned his mistake.
“I’m sure he’d like to have that first goal back,” Cavanaugh said. “To his credit, he came right to our bench and said ‘Hey guys, that’s on me,’ and we were saying ‘Hey, don’t worry about that. We shouldn’t be leaving that guy open.’”
From there on, Hanson made a handful of big stops — including one at the end of the first period when he got across his crease and made a glove save on the back post to preserve the lead.
“I love the way he responded,” Cavanaugh said. “He didn’t shrink after that (first) goal and made some huge saves.”
UConn owned the face-off circle in the first period with a 17-8 advantage and finished the game with 37 wins to Sacred Heart’s 27. The Huskies also won face-offs at the most crucial times, such as on penalty kills and in the defensive zone.
“I thought UConn really dominated the face-off dot the first couple periods on us,” Marottolo said. “We didn’t have the puck as much as we would like.”
During the preseason, Cavanaugh declared that junior Vladislav Firstov “has the potential to be one of the very best forwards in the league.”
On Saturday, he showed why. Firstov was the best player on the ice, lighting the lamp twice while drawing a penalty that led to the Huskies’ power-play goal. On his first score, he took a shot far-post from the top of the circle and on the second, he shot from behind the net, bounced the puck off the goaltender’s back and into the goal.
“I thought he was electric when the puck was on his stick. He really was,” Cavanaugh said. “He drew that penalty that got us a power-play goal, made some great plays offensively and I thought he competed hard all night long. We’re going to need him to be the type of player if we want to keep competing for a league title.”
Quote of note
“That’s been a tough game for us to find a way to win over the past few years.” — Cavanaugh on finally beating Sacred Heart.
- This is UConn’s first win over Sacred Heart since joining Hockey East. Previously, the Huskies were 0-5-1 with a -10 goal differential.
- Nick Capone sat out with an upper-body injury.
UConn will begin Hockey East play next weekend with a home-and-home series with Boston University, beginning on Friday at the XL Center.
P1: 14:47 Logan Britt with his first goal as a Pioneer! SHU evens it up at 1-1! pic.twitter.com/eEtcAoM0Hw— SHU Hockey (@SHUHockey) October 2, 2021