UConn men’s hockey closed out the regular season with a convincing win over the Vermont Catamounts, 4-0. Goaltender Darion Hanson earned his first shutout of the season on senior day and the Huskies blanked an opponent for the first time since a 2-0 win over Providence on Dec. 28, 2020.
UVM put just 12 shots on goal — the fewest UConn has ever allowed under head coach Mike Cavanaugh. Meanwhile, the Huskies’ four goals were the most they’ve totaled at the XL Center against a Hockey East opponent this season.
“I thought that was probably the most complete game that we’ve played this season,” Cavanaugh said. “Right from the start, that was a full 60 minutes.”
UConn got goals in the first period from John Spetz, Artem Shlaine and Carter Turnbull while Jake Veilleux tallied his first career score in the second period.
The Huskies finish the regular season with an 18-14-0 record and a 14-10-0 mark in Hockey East play.
Fast start sets the tone
After a disappointing loss on Friday night — its third consecutive defeat — UConn needed a bounce-back in the worst way. The Huskies notched their first goal on a 5-on-3 power play just seven minutes in, which immediately lifted a weight off their shoulders.
“To be able to score on that (5-on-3), that gave our bench some energy,” Cavanaugh said.
From there, they added a second off the rush and a third courtesy of a second-chance rebound. All season long, Cavanaugh has talked about the importance of scoring three different ways — off the rush, on power plays and from zone play. The Huskies notched one of each in the opening 12 minutes.
“You gotta be multi-dimensional,” Cavanaugh said. “You just can’t rely on your power play. You can’t rely on your half court offense. You can’t rely just off fast breaks. So we want to be a team that can beat you in many different ways.”
Throughout his collegiate career at Union and UConn, Hanson’s parents had only made it to eight or nine games, by his estimation. Each time, his team lost and he even got pulled on at least one occasion. With senior day on Saturday, they made the trip from Minneapolis for the weekend and got to see the Huskies play their worst game of the season on Friday. Luckily, the streak ended there.
After five long years, they finally got to see Hanson earn a win and were also there to witness his first shutout in a UConn uniform.
“If there’s a time to do it, it’s on senior day,” Hanson said of his shutout. “To get the shutout, I’m sure it’s special for [my parents], so it makes me happy.”
While the net-minder had a good performance between the pipes, it helped that his defense kept the puck away from goal. After Vermont scored five goals on Friday night, it managed just six shots through the first two periods and 12 on the game.
Much of that was because UConn limited turnovers. Three of the Catamounts’ goals on Friday came off either giveaways or poor decisions with the puck by the Huskies. The visitors weren’t as fortunate in the second game of the series.
“I don’t think we turned the puck over. I thought our biggest issues we’ve had in the defensive zone are unforced errors,” Cavanaugh said. “When you turn the puck over, you’re just asking for trouble because nobody’s in position defensively. When the puck’s scrummed in the corner and it’s dumped in, everybody’s in position defensively so it’s hard to beat.”
Not only did UConn avoid giveaways, it also managed the puck well in other aspects of the game. It controlled possession, which limited Vermont’s time on attack, and even when the Huskies were forced to defend, they slowed the Catamounts up through the neutral zone and prevented any odd-man rushes up the ice.
“When we’re not turning the puck over, we’re not giving them rushes, we don’t give up much,” Hanson said.
Special teams stay hot
By notching its opening goal off an advantage, UConn’s power play has scored in five of its last six games. Prior to that stretch, the Huskies had notched a power play goal in six of first 27 games.
The difference is the result of a change made by associate head coach Joe Pereira a few weeks back. Instead of having specific power play units — i.e four forwards and one defensemen, UConn’s staff decided to keep its normal lines — three forwards, two defensemen — and maintain a simple style of play.
“I’d love to tell you that I designed some power play that’s (hard to defend). Yeah, it’s that simple,” Cavanaugh said of the change. “I mean, I think it’s working. So we’re gonna continue to do it. Not I think, I know. We’re gonna continue to do it because we’re scoring goals.”
Meanwhile, the Huskies’ penalty kill went 4-4 and held Vermont’s power play to just a single shot the entire night.
While UConn took care of business on Saturday, it still needs some help to get a bye into the quarterfinals. The Huskies will finish fourth if both Merrimack and Boston University come away with zero points, they’ll finish fifth if Merrimack takes zero points but BU one more points and will end up sixth if Merrimack and BU come earn any points.
The top five seeds receive a bye into the quarterfinals while the sixth seed will take on 11-seed Maine on Wednesday. The Warriors play at home against Northeastern at 7:00 p.m. while the Terriers are on the road against Maine at 7:30 p.m.
Cavanaugh won’t stress about something that’s out of his control, though.
“I don’t plan on watching any of it,” he said. “I’m going to go get a nice dinner and just relax because we’ll play wherever we play.”
Let's take another look at the power play goal from John Spetz, his 4th on the season. Huskies with a BIG 1st period this afternoon! pic.twitter.com/fbbKkybs51— UConn Men's Hockey (@UConnMHOC) March 5, 2022