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UConn men’s hockey survives Maine, 4-3

The Huskies didn’t bring their A-game, but they put together a gutsy performance to earn the win.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

UConn men’s hockey made it harder on itself than it should’ve been, but the Huskies earned a 4-3 victory over the scoreless Maine Black Bears at Alfond Arena on Friday night.

“I know how hard it is to win in this league and I’m happy that we got to win, but I thought we were out-played tonight by Maine,” head coach Mike Cavanaugh said. “I don’t think we were the better team tonight.”

After entering the night with just two power play goals in 24 opportunities — and none in its last 14 — UConn scored two goals on the advantage, including the game-winner. On the flip side, the Huskies’ penalty kill went 4-4 on the night.

UConn goaltender Darion Hanson had a strong night aside from one major gaffe in the third. After Maine won the opening face-off of the period, Jakub Sirota fired a shot from center ice that Hanson didn’t see to tie the game at 3-3. The goalie bounced back with a 10-save third period and finished with 27 on the night.

Hanson also came up big for the Huskies on more than a few occasions. In the first period, a shot bounced hard off the back boards and came straight at goal, which forced Hanson to spin around and bat the puck away. He also stoned Maine on a breakaway chance in the second period and turned back waves of pressure from the hosts all night long.

“That’s clearly uncharacteristic for him to give up a goal like that,” Cavanaugh said of his net-minder. “He responded really, really well. He didn’t let that goal dictate how he was going to play the rest of the game and he made some huge saves for us.”

Maine fired the opening salvo with 3:35 left in the first period. Keenan Suthers found a wide-open Adrien Bisson on the far side, who buried his shot past Hanson to give the Black Bears a 1-0 lead.

UConn looked sluggish and disconnected in the first, which led to a mostly toothless offense. That changed five minutes into the second period when Vladislav Firstov blasted a laser from the blue line to snap the Huskies’ cold streak on the power play and tie the game at 1-1.

Shortly after, UConn failed to convert a pair of golden opportunities. Jachym Kondelik missed a breakaway opportunity while Firstov somehow didn’t finish an open wrap-around attempt.

The deadlock didn’t last long, though. Just past the midway point of the second period, Hudson Schandor took the puck on the blue line and dished it off to Chase Bradley. From there, the freshman delivered a perfect pass to Ryan Tverberg on the back post, who simply tapped the puck into the open net.

Even with its first lead, UConn let Maine back into the game when the Black Bears again found an open Grant Hebert on the back post, who buried a one-timer. But before the home crowd could even finish celebrating, the Huskies answered.

Artem Shlaine forced a turnover in the neutral zone, carried it toward net and sent a cross-ice pass to Firstov. While he couldn’t finish, Tverberg followed the play and converted the rebound to put UConn back up, 3-2.

Although Maine tied it six seconds into the third period on Sirota’s goal, the Huskies’ power play came through again. With 7:17 to play, Kondelik posted up in front of net, received a pass from Tverberg and lit the lamp with his third goal of the year — one which would become the game-winner.

Despite facing heavy pressure for much of the third period, UConn closed out the game strong. The Huskies pinned Maine in its own offensive zone for a long stretch in the final minutes, which didn’t allow the hosts to pull its goaltender until 1:12 remained.

Although UConn couldn’t find an empty net goal to seal the win, it did enough to keep the puck away from its own goal and secured the victory.

The Huskies improve to 5-3-0 on the season while the Black Bears fall to 0-6-1. The two teams will meet again on Saturday night at 7:00 p.m.