UConn men’s hockey is headed back to Hartford. The Huskies clinched a home ice playoff series with a late rally in Durham, New Hampshire on Saturday night.
The 5-4 overtime win looked improbable. The Huskies entered the third period trailing 4-1. Three goals in the third, including one with just over a minute left, forced overtime and sucked the life out of the Whittemore Center on UNH’s senior night.
UNH took control of the game right from the start. Forward Michael McNicholas gave the Wildcats a 1-0 lead when he put home a rebound 12 minutes into the game. UNH continued to dominate possession and scored three minutes later when a rebound leaked through the legs of UConn goaltender Rob Nichols.
The second period didn’t go much better for the Huskies. UNH sophomore forward Shane Eiserman extended his team’s lead with a breakaway goal at the 5:11 mark and UConn looked all but defeated.
UConn was finally able to get on the board in typical UConn fashion eight minutes into the second period. Freshman forward Tage Thompson scored his 12th power play goal of the season to cut the deficit to two. However, when UNH scored their fourth goal of the game on a slap shot over Nichols right shoulder, things looked bleak for the Huskies. Through two periods they trailed 4-1, committed five penalties, and were being outshot 38-30.
Something kept UConn motivated when they needed it most.
“Our coaching staff wanted to challenge us to come back. We knew we had it in us. We knew we had the team to be able to come back in those situations and we just proved that,” sophomore forward Corey Ronan said.
UConn looked like they had a golden opportunity when they started the third period with 30 seconds of 5-on-3. However, they failed to capitalize on their chances.
“I thought we were really lethargic and lackadaisical in the 5-on-3, but Max Kalter’s line, who’ve been one of our best lines the last two weeks, got us going with a goal there and energized the bench,” head coach Mike Cavanaugh said.
Shortly after the penalty kill by UNH, Kalter got the puck behind the net and was able to slide a pass to senior Joey Ferriss, who finished a backhand to cut the deficit to two. Ferriss credited his line mates for creating the opportunities.
“We’re not the most skilled guys in the world, but we chip pucks and we go hard and good things will happen when you just keep it simple and you work hard,” he said.
A UNH penalty at the 9:04 mark gave UConn another chance to climb back in the game. Junior forward Evan Richardson ripped a slap shot that was deflected by UNH goaltender Danny Tirone. Sophomore Kasperi Ojantakanen collected the rebound and dished a pass to his right to Spencer Naas, who calmly finished the play and made it a 4-3 game.
With just over one minute remaining, Ferriss found himself in the right place at the right time again. This time it was freshman Joseph Masonius who set him up in front of the net.
“Joey just found me in front and I just tried to get it on net and it went in,” Ferriss said. “It was a great play by everyone.”
Nichols made a crucial save with 17 seconds remaining in regulation and gave the Whittemore Center crowd free hockey. UConn sealed the deal and completed their comeback three minutes into overtime. Corey Ronan, who recently returned from a hand injury, ripped a backhander that deflected off a defender and into the net.
“I saw a little lane and I just kind of cut in and tried to get a backhanded shot. It ended up deflecting off the UNH defender’s stick and went right over his head,” Ronan said.
Cavanaugh is thrilled to give UConn fans a home game in the Hockey East playoffs next weekend.
“I think it’s great for our fans,” Cavanaugh said. “Now we give our fans a chance to watch some playoff hockey.”
Aaron Esposito is a staff writer for The Daily Campus, covering men’s hockey. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.