Men's Hockey: Penalties, timely saves highlight 3-3 battle against Merrimack

UConn men's ice hockey goaltender Rob Nichols looks for the puck during the Huskies' game against Merrimack at XL Center in Hartford, Connecticut on Friday, Dec. 11, 2015. (Jason Jiang/The Daily Campus)

Looking for its third-straight victory over a ranked opponent, UConn pushed No. 19 Merrimack to the breaking point but couldn’t produce a win, tying the Warriors 3-3 after overtime.

It was a roller coaster of a game that featured several momentum swings, frequent trips to the penalty box and one extremely clutch save by Rob Nichols.

Momentum swings and penalty trips

The penalty box attendants earned their paychecks tonight as both teams combined for nine trips to the penalty box in the game.

Both teams took turns committing penalties but it looked like Merrimack’s breakdown in the second period was going to cost them this game.

The Warriors committed four penalties in the second period, giving UConn ample opportunity to seize control of this game.

And for at least one period they did.

Already leading 1-0, Jeff Wight scored his first career goal after the puck found it’s way out to the sophomore forward who easily buried the power play goal.

It was a good a time as any to pick up a first collegiate goal.

“It felt pretty relieving to finally get the monkey of my back,” Wight said. “Jesse (Schwartz) made a solid play on the faceoff, won it back, took a fortunate bounce and I had a pretty wide open net.”

UConn men's ice hockey forward Jeff Wight (middle) celebrates with teammates Evan Richardson (left) and Jesse Schwartz (right) after scoring a goal during the Huskies' game against Merrimack at XL Center in Hartford, Connecticut on Friday, Dec. 11, 2015. (Jason Jiang/The Daily Campus)

UConn found themselves on the other side of a power play fueled comeback during the third period.

Marc Biega and Justin Hussar both scored power play goals within 60 seconds to give the Warriors a 3-2 in the third period.

UConn and was able to send the game to overtime off one final power play goal from Joseph Masonius with less than two minutes remaining.

Despite the game’s twists and turns , head coach Mike Cavanaugh was able to keep a level head on the bench.

“I’ve coached a lot of games. I try not to get emotionally involved in the game while it’s going on. You just got to try to think about “what’s your next move?”, said Cavanaugh. “When it’s 2-1 and they have a power play you’re thinking ‘How are we going to defend this?’  When they make it 3-2 its like ‘Okay who’s going to go out there and try and tie this?'"

Saving grace

Goaltender Rob Nichols made 31 saves on the night but none was bigger than his denial of Ludvig Larsson to end the game.

Larsson was able to escape a crowd of UConn skaters after a gamble from Joseph Masonius allowed him to break down the ice with less than ten seconds left.

Nichols stayed calm and easily denied what would have been the game winning buzzer beater and sent the game to overtime.

Cavanaugh didn’t dance around just how much Nichol’s save bailed the team out.

“(Masonius) got caught up a little too high… He’ll learn. It’s time and score and situation and you’ve got to back off there,” Cavanaugh said. “You’re not going to pick that pass off and win a game in that situation.”

Neither team was able to capitalize in the extra period but Cavanaugh said that there is some momentum that can be taken from this game.

“I think there are a lot of our players that are really turning their game up,” said Cavanaugh.

UConn will be back in action on New Years day when they head to Minnesota for a 7 p.m. tilt with the Golden Gophers.


Bryan Lambert is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at bryan.lambert@uconn.edu.