UConn men’s hockey gave up two goals in the third period en route to a 2-1 loss to the No. 10 UMass Minutemen at the XL Center. After two scoreless periods, the Minutemen struck first on a power play eight minutes into the third and added a second with 2:55 remaining. While the Huskies pulled one back late, it wasn’t enough to overcome the deficit.
“UMass was the better team tonight”
Postgame, both coaches agreed that the better team came out on top on Friday night.
“I thought our guys were outstanding tonight and played a really solid 60 minutes,” UMass coach Greg Carvel said. “I thought we deserved the win.”
“UMass was the better team tonight, I thought, in a lot of areas,” UConn coach Mike Cavanaugh said. “They outplayed us.”
While the Minutemen owned the advantage in shots throughout the entire game, the Huskies had the better chances early on. Jachym Kondelik hit the post twice in the first period, Kevin O’Neil whiffed on a 2-on-1 chance and Vladislav Firstov couldn’t finish a breakaway — to name a few.
UConn just didn’t generate enough of those chances and were held to single-digit shot totals in every period and 20 on the game — tied for its lowest mark of the season.
“We didn’t get enough at their net, in my opinion,” Cavanaugh said. “We didn’t get enough pucks to the net or traffic around the net.”
While UMass featured a strong defense and five-year starter between the pipes in Matt Murray, the Huskies also struggled to keep the puck in the zone.
“I thought we were just late on our forecheck all night long. We were just a second late,” Cavanaugh said. “We’ve got to probably be a little more aggressive on our forecheck.”
As the game progressed, the Minutemen slowly gained more control. They owned the puck for long stretches at the end of the second period and then opened the third by taking 11 of the first 13 shots on net. It was only a matter of time until UMass finally found the breakthrough.
“It’s one of those games where you feel like you’re playing well and it’s gonna come eventually,” Carvel said. “That’s that’s how it felt to me. I was comfortable the way we were playing.”
Special teams struggle
UConn did its part to help the Minutemen find that breakthrough, though. The Huskies committed three penalties in the first eight minutes and while it took until its fourth power play, UMass eventually capitalized.
“We took too many penalties in the third period,” Cavanaugh said. “We’re still in the game going into the third period and you just can’t give a power play like that three in a row. When you do that, you’re asking for trouble and they got that goal.”
It’s not as if UConn gave the officials much of a choice, either.
“I think they were penalties. We’ve just got to be more disciplined,” Cavanaugh said of the calls in the third period. “I think that we could have avoided a couple of those penalties. That wasn’t the referee’s fault.”
The Minutemen’s power play totals are deceptive, too. Their second and third power plays were both shortened thanks to a penalty of their own, so they only had a pair of full, two-minute advantages. The first came in the second period and UConn killed it without much trouble. UMass finally scored the opener on the second power play thanks to a relatively simple adjustment.
“We went into the game with a couple set plays that we wanted to use against them and we didn’t bother trying to use any of them and so the first power play looked terrible,” Carvel said. “I said in the intermission, ‘Why don’t we just try to do what we’re supposed to do?’ That play from behind the net (that resulted in the goal) was a set play...it was good to see that execution.”
UConn only had one traditional 5-on-4 power play for two minutes late in the third period while trailing by one. The Huskies won the opening face-off and then the two defensemen passed it back and forth to each other without looking much in the direction of net. UConn eventually fired a low-percentage chances toward goal and then spent the rest of the advantage retrieving the puck from its own end.
“The first one we won that draw, I’d like to see us play with a little more pace and be more in attack mode,” Cavanaugh said. “That’s something we’ll work on.”
Although the Huskies converted on their next power play, it came on a 6-on-4 chance after they pulled Darion Hanson. It made the final minute more interesting but ultimately didn’t factor into the final result.
Quote of note
“I don’t think we were as sharp as we could be.” — Mike Cavanaugh on his team’s performance.
- The loss snaps UConn’s streak of six straight wins in Hockey East play. The Huskies fall to 16-12-0 on the season and 12-7-0 in the league. They dropped to fourth in the standings after UMass Lowell, UMass and Merrimack all won.
- Kondelik picked up the helper on Turnbull’s goal, which means he’s now tied with Sean Ambrosie for the most career assists in UConn’s Division I history with 71.
- The crowd of 4,358 was the Huskies’ second-largest of the season at the XL Center, behind only Boston College on Nov. 12 (5,694).
UConn will make the return trip to Amherst tomorrow for a must-win game at UMass. Puck drop is set for 7:30 p.m. EST on NESN+ and SportsLive.