The UConn men’s hockey team (3-5-0, 1-4-0) fell 4-2 to Hockey East opponent UMass (5-2-1, 1-1-1) at the XL Center on Friday night in Hartford. The Huskies went 0-for-6 on the power play in the loss as Minutemen forward Austin Plevy tallied the game-winning goal with 4:54 remaining in the third period.
“We’re certainly disappointed. I thought our effort was pretty good tonight, but I think the story of the game was that we went [0-for-6] on the power play. We had a lot of chances to score goals, and we didn’t,” UConn coach Mike Cavanaugh said after the game.
UMass got on the scoreboard just 1:14 into the contest after a blocked shot led to a breakaway goal for Ray Pigozzi. The Huskies were sloppy in the game’s opening minutes, as UMass was able to generate chances fairly easily.
Near the midway point of the first period, a switch flipped and the UConn offense roared to life. The passing became slicker, as the team made plays to find open shots and keep the puck in the offensive zone.
The Huskies’ offense was finally rewarded with about three minutes remaining in the period as Jesse Schwartz capped a wild sequence by pushing a rebound past UConn goaltender Nic Renyard to even the score at one apiece.
“We had the puck in [the offensive zone] for quite a long time there,” Schwartz said of the sequence that led to his goal.
The second period began slowly, until UMass’s Dominic Trento fired a rebound past UConn goaltender Rob Nichols to give the Minutemen a 2-1 lead with 14:12 remaining in the period. Jake Horton and Maddison Smiley were credited with assists on Trento’s goal.
The middle of the second period was highlighted by a wild five-minute stretch in which the Huskies saw two shots bounce off the inside of the crossbar and away from the net. Both plays sent the referees to the monitor to review the replay footage, after which both plays were ruled no goal.
Renyard was excellent in net all night long, making 40 saves in the win, but he received significant help from the pipes surrounding him.
UConn tied the game with 4:03 remaining in the second period on a lofted backhand shot from freshman Karl El-Mir. Joey Ferriss and Miles Gendron recorded assists on the goal, the first of El-Mir’s career.
The two teams traded chances in the first half of the third period, which was highlighted by another breakaway chance for Pigozzi. This time, Nichols made the save.
Late in the period, the pace of play began to pick up, as the two teams began to skate harder. The Minutemen found the go-ahead goal with just under five minutes remaining as Plevy beat Nichols with a wrist shot off a rebound. Callum Fryer, whose shot created the rebound, received an assist on the eventual game-winning goal.
“We knew that a lot of pucks were going to be kicked back into the slot,” Plevy said. “In my case, it was a great shot by [Fryer]. It kicked right out to my stick, I was in the right place at the right time, and I was able to bang it home.”
The goal sent the Huskies into desperation mode as they attempted to tie the game. With 3:08 remaining, they received another power play chance – their sixth of the game after failing to score on the first five.
With around 50 seconds remaining on the power play, Cavanaugh called a timeout and decided to pull Nichols from the game to obtain a 6-on-4 advantage. This move backfired, as UMass defenseman William Lagesson scored on the empty net to secure a 4-2 victory just a few seconds later.
Cavanaugh stood behind his decision after the game.
“I’d do it again. I think it’s a great opportunity, and we’re trying to tie the game up. We’re not trying to keep it close,” Cavanaugh said.
After a 5-2 win over national powerhouse Boston University on Oct. 27, the Huskies have now lost three games in a row to Hockey East rivals. Cavanaugh acknowledged that the defense had to improve if the team wanted to get back to their winning ways.
“We’re still giving up too many chances for my liking, and we’ve got to be better defensively, because I don’t think we can win too many games if we’re just going to trade chances with other teams,” Cavanaugh said.