Behind a furious start, UConn men’s hockey closed out the regular season with a 5-3 win over the No. 15 Providence Friars. The Huskies (10-10-2) clinch fourth place in Hockey East standings with the win — their highest finish ever.
UConn dominates early
It took UConn over 10 minutes to fire the opening salvo but once it did, the floodgates quickly opened. Jachym Kondelik got the Huskies started by burying a rebound right in front of net and added a second just 1:42 later off a feed from Jonny Evans.
A few minutes later, Vladislav Firstov bursted into the offensive zone and dropped a pass to Hudson Schandor, who fired the puck into the top-left corner of the net for the score. Soon after, Kondelik earned his first career hat trick by knocking a puck just above PC goaltender Jaxon Stauber’s helmet out of the air and into the twine to put UConn up 4-0.
All three of Kondelik’s goals came on the Huskies’ three power play chances in the first period as well. After Ryan Tverberg snapped an 0-21 power play streak with a goal on the man advantage against Maine, UConn’s power play unit scored on four consecutive man-advantages.
“On the power play, [Kondelik] got the first one with a rebound — well, he got three goals right in front of the net,” head coach Mike Cavanaugh said. “Our power play played with pace tonight and we got pucks to the net.”
The Huskies didn’t waste any time coming out of the first intermission, either. Marc Gatcomb sprang free on a 2-on-1 and threw a shot on goal, which bounced off Stauber and fall into the path of Evans, who knocked it into the net to extend UConn’s lead to 5-0. The Huskies kept the pressure on and put 20 shots on goal in the period — as many as they had in total in their last meeting with Providence.
“I think coming out to start the second period with a quick goal really gave us a lot of energy and we played a great second period,” Cavanaugh said.
In the span of 10:08, UConn jumped on the Friars and built a lead that (ultimately) proved to be insurmountable.
Huskies’ survive comeback bid
The Friars didn’t go down without a fight, though. Just two and a half minutes into the final period, Tyce Thompson injected life into what had been a lifeless Providence squad.
The visitors seized on that momentum and scored again 56 seconds later to cut the Huskies’ lead to just three with over 16 minutes still remaining. Providence continued to pepper UConn goaltender Tomas Vomacka with shots on net and broke through with a third just three minutes later to get within two.
“I knew Providence was going to come back and they did and I think you saw what type of team they are in the third period,” Cavanaugh said. “They’re a good hockey team and they took it to us in the third period. They were playing desperate and we were playing back on our heels a little bit.”
Despite getting blitzed early in the period, the Huskies’ regained their footing after a timeout and quickly locked down defensively. While Providence continued to carry the play, UConn limited the dangerous chances and didn’t give up another power play.
“When the timeout happened and it was 5-3 I think we were able to settle down and just say ‘Hey, let’s play our game. We’ve got to be comfortable playing in these games. This is what’s going to be like playing in the playoffs, they’re going to be real close games and you got to be comfortable playing in a game when the other team has momentum.’ I thought our guys did a good job with that,” Cavanaugh said.
As the game wound down, the Huskies finished strong and didn’t let the Friars to pull their goaltender until only 1:14 remained. Providence couldn’t take advantage of the extra skater with so little time and UConn walked away with a 5-3 victory.
Kondelik finally breaks through
Entering the game, Kondelik led Hockey East with 17 assists and was second on the Huskies in points but had yet to score a goal.
Once he notched his first, Kondelik quickly made up for lost time and tied the program’s Hockey East record with three goals in a single period. He also earned the seventh hat trick in UConn’s Hockey East era, a feat only Jonny Evans (three), Sasha Payusov, Max Letunov and Tage Thompson have accomplished.
Even with such a strong night, Kondelik was quick to pass credit off to his teammates.
“Obviously it was nice to get one in but I was just fortunate to be in the right place at the right time and all my teammates did a really good job on the power play,” he said. “I basically just stay net-front so if I get a chance I can whack it in. I was fortunate enough that I did this today.”
Kondelik also added an assist on Evan’s goal, which means he’s up to 21 points on the season with three goals and 18 assists.
Big ups for senior Johnny McDermott with a great re-direct for his first career goal! pic.twitter.com/vPSE2GEauy— PC Men's Hockey (@FriarsHockey) March 6, 2021
Note: Providence only tweeted one of its three goals.
UConn and Providence will meet again in the Hockey East quarterfinals on Sunday, March 14 at the Freitas Ice Forum.