The UConn men’s hockey team (9-17-4, 4-10-4) Hockey East) fell to defending national champions No. 5 Providence 3-2 in a physical game at the XL Center on Saturday evening.
With the net empty and an extra skater on the ice, UConn forward Shawn Pauly scored a goal to cut Providence’s lead to 3-2 with 1:16 remaining in the game. However, the Huskies could not find the game-tying goal after that.
A strong bounce back effort
On Friday night at Schneider Arena in Rhode Island, the Friars shutout the Huskies 4-0 in the first half of this weekend’s series. Providence scored three times in the first period to establish an early lead, and rode that momentum to a Hockey East win.
With this series shifting to UConn’s home ice, UConn coach Mike Cavanaugh looked for his team to respond in Hartford.
“I simply asked the team to come out and compete tonight, and just play,” Cavanaugh said. “Last night, we got paralyzed a little bit by playing with fear. I was pretty proud of our effort tonight.”
The Huskies trailed 2-0 after two periods, but they were engaged throughout, finishing checks and pushing play up the ice when they were able to escape the defensive zone. Providence finished with a 28-24 advantage in shots after a dominating 45-24 advantage on Friday.
UConn did not quit in the third period, cutting the lead to 2-1 and 3-2 at various points during the game as Providence looked to close out the victory smoothly. It was a loss for the Huskies, but an encouraging one considering the quality of the opponent.
Avoiding tired legs
With defensemen David Drake, Johnny Austin and Joona Kunnas sitting out, the Huskies only had five defensemen dressed on Saturday evening. Providence coach Nate Leaman acknowledged that the change in UConn’s personnel, and the quick turnaround from Friday’s game in Rhode Island, prompted a certain strategy from the Friars’ forwards.
“With them only dressing five [defensemen] tonight, we wanted to try to work them low as much as possible,” Leaman said. “We tried to get some good grind time against them, and hopefully we would tire them out.”
Cavanaugh did not think that his team showed any signs of fatigue.
“I thought our energy was great in the third. I don’t think that was a factor at all,” Cavanaugh said.
The freshmen continue to produce
Another day, another power play goal for UConn freshman Tage Thompson, who has now scored 11 times on the man advantage this season. Early in the third period, Thompson fired a shot past Providence goaltender Nick Ellis to cut the Friars’ lead to 2-1.
Many times in Hartford this season, Thompson has received a pass in an open spot on the left side of the ice, and many times he has beaten the opposing goaltender to the top shelf with a hellacious shot.
“When you’re playing with guys like Letunov, it’s pretty easy finding open area,” Thompson said. “Shawn [Pauly] finds me all the time. It’s pretty simple – just sit in a pocket and they do the work, mostly.”
Fellow freshman Maxim Letunov was credited with an assist on Thompson’s goal, and he picked up another helper on Pauly’s late goal. Letunov now has 33 points this season, which ties Cole Schneider for the UConn Division I rookie points record.
Gearing up for the Hockey East playoffs
With four games remaining in the regular season, the Huskies sit ninth in the Hockey East standings with 12 points. Finishing as one of the top eight teams would earn UConn the right to host an opening round playoff series.
“This is essentially playoff hockey now. When you get to this time of the year, where everyone is jockeying for position, it’s playoff hockey,” Cavanaugh said.
The Huskies have home-and-home series remaining against Northeastern, which currently sits in seventh place with 14 points, and New Hampshire, which currently sits in eighth with 47 points. A strong regular season finish is crucial for UConn if they wish to secure home-ice advantage for the opening playoff round.
Based on what he saw against Providence on Saturday evening, Cavanaugh was hopeful about his team’s chances.
“Our goal is to build. We’re not going to win the regular season title. We know that,” Cavanaugh said after the game. “If we can continue to build off of what we did today, I think that we’ll be OK.”
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.