In the first game of a must-win series, UConn men’s hockey fell flat on its face in a 5-3 loss to the Vermont Catamounts. The Huskies have now lost three straight games and drop to 17-15-0 on the season and 13-10-0 in Hockey East play.
“I give credit to Vermont,” head coach Mike Cavanaugh said postgame. “I thought they played a good road game and they deserved to win.”
UVM scored first but UConn responded just 44 seconds later on a power play goal from Carter Turnbull. The Catamounts ultimately pulled back ahead with 1:45 left in the first period and went into the first intermission up 2-1.
The Huskies came out strong in the second period and tied the game 1:24 off a second-chance attempt from Kevin O’Neil and then took their first lead short after when Artem Shlaine tipped in a shot from John Spetz. Then, UConn fell apart as Vermont answered with two goals in the second and added an empty-netter to claim the 5-3 victory.
Poor overall performance dooms Huskies
Outside of the first 10 minutes in the second period, UConn never showed up to play. From the opening face-off, the Huskies struggled with their zone entries, had trouble with clearances and just weren’t sharp with the puck in any facet of the game.
“You can’t play snob hockey,” Cavanaugh said. “If they’ve got guys back across the blue line, you can’t try to beat him 1-on-1 or try to chip it by him. Sometimes you just got to get it in deep and go get it.”
Even when UConn did have a stretch of offensive zone play, it struggled to create chances with it. The Huskies totaled just 21 shots through the first two periods and 18 in the third but many were either from too far out or at an angle that would’ve been difficult to score from.
“I thought there were times where we pass tried to pass the puck and we should have shot it,” Cavanaugh said. “When we aren’t getting second and third opportunities it’s usually because we don’t have a couple guys at the net.”
Turnovers doom the Huskies
Two of Vermont’s goals came directly off turnovers from UConn.
Late in the first period, Ryan Tverberg had it in the corner of the team’s defensive zone but lost the puck off his stick. The Catamounts jumped on and beat Darion Hanson in goal to take a 2-1 lead. In the second period, Joel Maatta forced a turnover, deked through UConn’s defense and sniped a shot past Hanson to tie the game at 3-3.
Cavanaugh felt both giveaways happened because the Huskies tried to be too cute with the puck.
“I don’t think we’re very good team when we bring the puck back into our zone,” he said. “We did that twice tonight when it turned over and and ended up in our net. I think we’re a team that when we play north and we you know have first touch breakouts and move the puck and play north, we’re a much better team than when we try to bring the puck back in and go D to D.”
While UVM’s eventual game-winning goal didn’t technically come off a turnover, it was still the result of a poor play. Spetz tried a shot from the blue line but it got blocked and allowed Porter Schachle to break free down the ice and score off the rush.
UConn came up short in a lot of areas on Friday night but poor puck management ended up being the most costly of the mistakes.
With the loss, UConn can’t finish higher than fourth in Hockey East. To earn a bye into the quarterfinals (which requires a top-five seed), the Huskies need to win in regulation and hope for a regulation loss for Merrimack and any type of defeat for Boston University. If all three teams win in regulation, UConn will be the sixth seed.
Quote of note
“Play a lot better than we did tonight — that’s gonna be the challenge. I think that’s pretty easy one. We gotta play a lot better tomorrow.” — Mike Cavanaugh
UConn will close out the regular season on Saturday with a second-straight home game against Vermont. Puck drop is set for 3:05 p.m. EST.