In UConn women’s hockey’s final game at Freitas Ice Forum, it fell to Boston University 2-1.
“We didn’t get the chance to close out the Freitas the right way,” captain Coryn Tormala said.
The Huskies made sure the same thing didn’t happen in the first-ever game at Toscano Family Ice Forum on Friday night. UConn opened the new, on-campus arena in front of 1,829 fans with a victory by defeating the Merrimack Warriors, 4-2. Freshman forward Brooke Campbell scored the first goal while goalie Megan Warrener picked up the first victory in the new arena.
“Really happy for the team,” head coach Chris MacKenzie said postgame. “Obviously that was the plan — to try to get a win — and I thought we played really well.”
The first period proved to be cagey as the Huskies tried to settle in the new environment. As they worked to score the opening goal, they had a few chances — none better than when Brianna Ware sent a shot off the crossbar — but couldn’t quite break through.
Then, Merrimack went to the box for tripping with just under four minutes left in the first period and UConn’s power play went to work. 17 seconds into the advantage, Campbell re-directed a shot from Claire Peterson into the back of the net to etch her name in the history books as the first goal scorer in the new arena.
“I saw Claire shooting and I know she’s always looking for a stick so I was just trying to bear down and that’s exactly what happened,” Campbell said. “So great shot and great help by everybody.”
Early in the second period, the captain doubled the lead. Tormala skated in and fired a shot from the top of the circles that went off the post and in. Though she came in scoreless over her last seven games, Tormala knew she just needed to rip it.
“[Kate Thurman] drove the player (towards net) and we’ve been practicing shooting through defenseman — and I haven’t been the greatest at shooting recently — so I just said ‘I’m gonna put my head down, pick a corner and shoot right up there through the defenseman,’’ the senior explained. “It was a relief and to hear that goal song was pretty awesome.”
At the second intermission, UConn led 2-0 while out-shooting the visitors 24-1 — meaning the Huskies had more goals than Merrimack had shots through 40 minutes.
“We’re a solid defensive team. We don’t give up a lot. We’re really making good decisions, keeping the game simple,” MacKenzie said. “When we do that, we’re very effective defensively.”
That trend continued early in the final period. The Warriors came out and put two consecutive attempts on net, but Kathryn Stockdale responded by sniping a shot top-shelf to give UConn a 3-0 advantage.
Merrimack didn’t quit, though. The Warriors scored a pair of goals 32 seconds apart to pull back within one, but the Huskies quickly righted the ship. The defense doubled down and with 36 seconds left, Thurman sealed the victory with an empty-netter from center ice.
“It got away from us there for about a minute,” MacKenzie said. “Kudos to Merrimack for staying in and battling. I wish we could have put it away and but it was great to just seal the deal there.”
With the win, MacKenzie’s squad improves to 14-8-2 on the season and 8-7-2 in Hockey East play. In the big picture, UConn improves to 3-0-0 in rink openers. The men’s hockey team defeated Nichols College in 1965 to christen the old outdoor rink then beat AIC in the first game at Freitas Ice Forum in 1998.
Even putting history aside, the Huskies knew they had no choice put to come out on top on Friday.
“We promised Dan (Toscano, who the rink is named after) that we’d win so we were coming to the rink knowing that we had to take this game,” Campbell said. “When we finally got that empty-netter, we really felt that sense of relief.”