The UConn men’s hockey team fell to Hockey East rival Vermont 4-2 in a wonky game Friday night at the XL Center, as an unusual bounce off the boards helped to turn the tides in the second period. Brendan Bradley scored the game-winning goal for the Catamounts with 4:29 remaining in the game.
“That was a disappointing loss,” UConn coach Mike Cavanaugh said after the game. “I don’t think we necessarily deserved to win the game. I thought that Vermont outplayed us for certainly the first two periods. I thought we came alive a little bit in the third period, showed some energy and made a game of it, but we didn’t play particularly well for the first two periods.”
The action was very physical right from the outset, as the two teams traded body blows and penalties. The first notable chance came early in the first period when UConn captain Patrick Kirtland nearly stuffed a puck past Vermont goalkeeper Packy Munson on the power play. The officials stopped play to review the play, confirming the no-goal call they made on the ice.
In net for the Huskies was backup goaltender Tanner Creel, who was starting in place of the injured Rob Nichols. Creel made a pair of excellent saves in the first to denying Vermont on shorthanded chances. He remained strong in goal throughout the night, stopping shots from many different angles.
“I knew this year that Rob was going to be playing most of the games,” Creel said. “I wanted to be the guy that stepped in when he couldn’t. That chance came today, and I just wanted to make the most of it and give the team a chance to win.”
UConn freshman Maxim Letunov was the first to get on the scoreboard, taking a Joseph Masonius pass and deking past Munson in a 1-on-1 scenario for a backhanded goal at 10:38 in the first period. Shawn Pauly was also credited with an assist on the goal, which was Letunov’s tenth of the season.
The first period ended with the Huskies holding a 1-0 lead, despite being outshot 13-7 and struggling to generate consistent stretches of offense.
“Their forecheck frustrated us,” Cavanaugh said. “I thought we were playing in our zone so much.”
Halfway through an energetic second period, the Huskies suffered a disastrous stroke of misfortune. Attempting to dump the puck in, Vermont’s Chris Muscoby fired the puck off the corner boards, only to watch it ricochet off the glass and towards the UConn net. Creel, who left his net in an attempt to play the puck, could only watch helplessly as the puck slid over the goal line and tied the game at one apiece.
“That puck hit so far down on the stanchion that I think you have to play it that way all the time,” Cavanaugh said of Creel’s decision to leave the net unguarded. “I was shocked when the puck went in.”
Vermont quickly took advantage of UConn’s justified shock and grabbed the lead just 28 seconds later on a Travis Blanleil goal. In the blink of an eye, the Huskies had lost the lead in the most peculiar of ways.
During the third period, tempers flared as the Huskies attempted to tie the game. A big scrum on the ice led to four minor penalties, including two for each team. Kevin Irwin, Joey Ferriss and Mike Lee were all sent to the box for hitting after the whistle.
UConn found the game-tying goal on the power play with 7:05 remaining, as freshman Tage Thompson finished a rebound off a shot from Pauly. Thompson has scored nine of his ten goals this season on the man advantage.
Vermont quickly responded at 15:31 of the third period with Bradley’s eventual game-winning goal, which was a rebound similar to the one that Blanleil finished in the second period
“Our guys stuck with the plan with five minutes to go,” Vermont coach Kyle Wallack said after the game. “We were able to get that third one and hang on down the stretch.”
Cavanaugh pulled Creel with under a minute left to put an extra skater on the ice, and with the net empty the Huskies were hurt again by an unlucky bounce. This time, a Vermont shot hit off the boards behind the goal, caromed off a player and landed directly in front of net for an easy empty-net finish. Blanleil was the beneficiary of the bounce, as he sealed a 4-2 victory for the Catamounts.
Munson made 22 saves and picked up the victory, while Creel made 30 saves in defeat. The Huskies went 1-for-5 on the power play, while Vermont went 0-for-5.
The Huskies will face another tough challenge on Saturday, as they go on the road to face No. 4 Boston College. Puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Tyler Keating is a staff writer for The Daily Campus, covering men's hockey. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.