UConn men’s hockey found a late game-winning goal and added an empty netter to defeat the Maine Black Bears, 4-2. After a 6-4 loss on Friday night, the Huskies (9-10-2) salvaged a series split with the victory.
“I told the players after the game that that’s a playoff hockey game right there,” UConn head coach Mike Cavanaugh said postgame. “Those are the type of games that you have to be comfortable playing at the end of the season and into the playoffs. Some things didn’t go our way and you have to be mentally tough and you’ve got to be able to withstand that.”
Ryan Tverberg tipped in a power play goal with 2:16 to play to put UConn up 3-2. Maine pulled its goaltender soon after but the Huskies absorbed the pressure and found an empty-net goal from Marc Gatcomb with one second left to secure the victory.
UConn’s two other goals came off deflections as well. Carter Berger notched his first goal of the season when his shot from the circle bounced off a body in front of net and found twine to put the Huskies up 1-0. The Huskies doubled their lead in the second period after Adam Karashik’s wrister was re-directed in off the stick of Cassidy Bowes.
The Huskies held the 2-0 lead deep into the second period before the Black Bears finally broke through during a 5-on-3 power play goal just 1:37 intermission. Maine then tied the game just before the buzzer on a controversial play that saw officials count the goal after the net had been dislodged.
Finally, Tverberg broke the deadlock and Gatcomb put it away to give UConn the 4-2 victory.
UConn earns gutsy win
Cavanaugh sat at his desk searching for the right words during his postgame Zoom call with the media.
Did you feel you were desperate for this win tonight?
He contemplated it for a few long seconds.
“Yeah, I’ll be honest. Yeah, we were,” he said with a big smile. “I think we needed to play desperate.”
UConn not only needed a win in the worst way, it couldn’t afford another loss to eighth-place Maine. Friday night’s defeat dropped the Huskies from fourth place into sixth place and a sweep almost certainly would’ve knocked them out of the race for home ice.
Entering Saturday’s game, UConn had also lost four straight games and put 52 shots on goal the night before but still didn’t come away with the win.
“It was frustrating and it’s really hard because even though you’re working hard and you’re playing pretty well,” Cavanaugh said. “When you don’t get the results — winning’s contagious and losing can be contagious too — so guys start doubting themselves and you can’t let Mr. Doubt creep in. When that creeps in, you’re never gonna have a chance to win.”
While the two sides were deadlocked at two goals apiece going into the final period, UConn took control and out-shot Maine 20-7. While the Huskies didn’t score until late, they didn’t look like a team doubting themselves over the final 20 minutes.
“I liked the fact that we didn’t play scared,” Cavanaugh said of the tam’s third period. “When you outshoot a team 22-7 in the third, you’re playing on your toes and you’re going after it to win a game you’re not playing scared.”
Ultimately, UConn’s desperation paid off with a much-needed win.
Power play comes through in the clutch
Entering the game, UConn’s power play had failed to score on any of its last 18 chances. That cold streak stretched into Saturday as the Huskies’ first three power play opportunities came up empty. Even with the lack of success, Cavanaugh felt the unit was on the verge of a breakthrough.
“We were dangerous (on the power play) tonight, which I really liked,” Cavanaugh said. “That [power play] before we scored in the third period, Carter Berger and [Jake Flynn’s] group did a great job. They did everything but score.”
That breakthrough finally came on UConn’s last full power play of the night. Marc Gatcomb got hit with a high stick with 2:57 left which put the Huskies on the advantage. Cavanaugh then took his timeout and emphasized to his team the need to attack the net.
“It was more just attack mode,” he said of the changes made to the power play. “We were playing better 4-on-5 (shorthanded) than we were 5-on-4 (power play). I think a lot of that’s just an attack mentality.”
While UConn won the ensuing face-off and took the first chance, the Black Bears grabbed the puck, went down the other end, and had a short-handed opportunity stopped by goaltender Tomas Vomacka. When the Huskies gathered the puck and re-entered the zone, Jonny Evans sent a cross-ice pass to Schandor, who quickly fired a one-timer that found Tverberg’s stick for the goal.
“Our power play had been struggling but we buried that in the past and they scored a huge goal for us to put us up 3-2,” Cavanaugh said.
The second period ended in a bizarre fashion with a controversial goal allowed in the final second. With Maine on a power play, the net dislodged after a scrum around it for a rebound. The referees allowed play to continue and the Black Bears scored just before the buzzer sounded.
While the net clearly came off before the shot, the officials reviewed the play and determined that UConn’s Adam Karashik knocked the net off as Maine’s Adam Dawe was in the process of shooting. Because of that, the play was not blown dead.
Rule 83.5 rules this play a good goal based on three criteria being met:— Hockey East (@hockey_east) February 27, 2021
1. The net was dislodged by a defending player while;
2. The puck was in a position to be shot and;
3. The puck crossed the goal line where the net should have been.@MaineIceHockey | @UConnMHOC pic.twitter.com/tnWkpy9qcI
Whether or not that was the proper interpretation of the rules, the entire sequence never should’ve mattered. Before the net came off its moorings, Emil Westerlund skated through the crease and clipped Vomacka. The goaltender fell to the ice and couldn’t get up quick enough to stop Dawe’s shot.
While Cavanaugh accepted the explanation for why the goal was counted, he felt the officials missed goaltender interference.
“The reason that they said the goal counted, I understood,” he said. “I just thought Tomas got interfered with and I didn’t think that was looked at closely enough.
“But they have a hard job, too. It’s not easy,” he added.
Either way, once the Huskies got into the locker room, they quickly put the call behind them.
“It’s ‘So what? Now what? We can’t control what the referee does,” Cavanaugh said. “The reality of the situation was we were 2-2 going into the third period. You win a period, win a game.”
- UConn put 99 shots on net over the two games.
- With the win and Northeastern losing 4-2 in regulation to Providence, the Huskies move back into fifth place in the Hockey East standings.
- Maine’s Adam Dawe received a major penalty and game misconduct after hitting Vomacka in the head at the end of the game.
Note: UConn did not tweet Gatcomb’s empty net goal.
Hockey East will announce the schedule for the final week of the regular season on Tuesday at 3:00 p.m.