No. 20 UConn men’s hockey couldn’t overcome a slow start as it fell to the UMass Lowell River Hawks in overtime, 3-2. The Huskies drop to 8-7-2 but end up with a point from the loss.
“Besides the first period, I was really happy with the way we competed and the effort we had tonight,” head coach Mike Cavanaugh said.
UMass Lowell struck less than four minutes in on the power play when a shot deflected off a skate and found the back of the net. UConn responded in the second period during a long stretch of zone time after Kale Howarth cleaned up a rebound from a Jonny Evans shot to make it 1-1.
But in the final seconds of the period, UConn turned the puck over in its defensive zone and the River Hawks capitalized to go back ahead just 15 seconds before intermission. The Huskies battled back and found another equalizer when Ryan Tverberg snuck a puck just inside the far post through traffic.
In overtime, both teams were more concerned with possessing the puck rather than looking for a goal. Finally, Andre Lee fired a shot from the point which deflected off Hudson Schandor’s stick and beat Tomas Vomacka five-hole to give UMass Lowell the 3-2 win.
Slow start stings
UConn came into the game in search of its fourth win in a row while UMass Lowell looked to avoid dropping its fifth straight. The Huskies started out far too nonchalant and received a wake-up call in the first period.
“I thought they jumped us pretty good in the first period,” Cavanaugh said. “I thought they were a team that was playing desperate because they hadn’t won in a few games and we weren’t a team playing desperate to win our fourth straight.”
The River Hawks controlled the puck as UConn struggled to clear its zone or sustain any offense. UMass Lowell took 17 shots to the Huskies’ seven and went into the first intermission up 1-0.
“I think it was just more about winning puck battles,” Cavanaugh said about the first period. “I think they were just winning puck battles and beating us to loose pucks.”
The Huskies flipped the game around in the second period, though. UConn came out with more energy and tilted the ice in its favor which held the River Hawks’ players on the ice for long shifts.
Despite a 14-6 shot advantage, UConn couldn’t find a second goal to take a lead and went into the intermission down a goal after UMass Lowell grabbed that late second-period score.
The Huskies had to play from behind again. They tied it with 10:42 left in regulation but couldn’t find another goal to get their own lead. Though UConn stayed in it for all 60+ minutes and had opportunities to earn the win, the slow start put the Huskies on the back foot and forced them to play catch-up over the final two periods.
Power play disappoints
On paper, UConn’s biggest advantage was on the power play. The Huskies entered the game with the hottest PP unit in the country over the last few weeks while UMass Lowell featured the second-worst penalty kill in the nation.
But UConn failed to take seize the opportunity, going 0-3 with the man-advantage on the night. The Huskies’ first power play was miserable as they struggled to even get the puck into their offensive zone and didn’t generate any real chances on the net.
“I thought the first one, we were a little out of sync,” Cavanaugh said.
UConn got one power play in each of the last two periods and though it executed better, it couldn’t breakthrough.
“I thought the [power play] in the third period was outstanding. We did everything but score. They couldn’t get the puck out of the zone,” Cavanaugh said. “I’ve always said, you’re not always going to score, it’s just got to be dangerous. That one was really happy with the execution on that (third) power play.”
Still, in a game decided by a few bounces of the puck, the Huskies missed a big opportunity by failing to exploit UMass Lowell’s porous penalty kill.
Vomacka stands tall
Without Vomacka in net, UConn might not have gotten the chance to come back from the slow start. The Huskies’ junior goaltender played outstanding despite UMass Lowell making life difficult for him with plenty of traffic in front.
“I thought he was great,” Cavanaugh said, before mentioning that two of the River Hawks’ goals came off deflections in front of his net and the other came off a turnover and subsequent 2-on-1.
“I thought he did his job tonight.”
Vomacka came up especially big late in the second period. At the tail end of a power play, Artem Shlaine tried a cross-ice pass to Carter Berger but the two couldn’t connect and the puck slipped out of the zone.
At the exact same moment, UMass Lowell’s Sam Knoblauch’s penalty expired. He jumped out of the box, grabbed the puck, and had a clear path to the net. He couldn’t beat Vomacka, though, as the junior stoned his shot.
“I thought that was a huge save for us,” Cavanaugh said.
While Vomacka might’ve been credited with the loss on the scoresheet, he was wire-to-wire UConn’s best player on Tuesday night.
- Adam Karashik, who went down in the second period while grabbing his side/hip, is okay.
“I think he was just winded,” Cavanaugh said. “He got the wind knocked out of him but he was fine.”
- Howarth recorded his sixth goal of the year while Tverberg notched his third. Shlaine extended his points streak to seven games with an assist.
UConn will play a home-and-home series with No. 16 Providence this weekend, starting on Friday at Schneider Arena.