Men's Hockey: Naas, Nichols help Huskies win Desert Hockey Classic

UConn's Max Kalter takes a faceoff during the Huskies' 2-1 loss to Boston University on Nov. 18, 2016 at the XL Center in Hartford, Connecticut. (Tyler Benton/The Daily Campus)

UConn's Max Kalter takes a faceoff during the Huskies' 2-1 loss to Boston University on Nov. 18, 2016 at the XL Center in Hartford, Connecticut. (Tyler Benton/The Daily Campus)

Without their top scorer and starting goaltender, the UConn men’s hockey team leaves Arizona with a championship trophy. The Huskies (8-6-6) won the Desert Hockey Classic, defeating No. 18 St. Cloud State 4-3 in the first round before recording a 4-1 victory over Brown in the title game.

Sophomore forward Tage Thompson and freshman goaltender Adam Huska did not travel with the team, as they were playing for their respective national teams in the IIHF World Junior Championships.

The shorthanded UConn roster did not back down. Senior goaltender Rob Nichols had a great weekend in the absence of Huska, making 33 saves in Friday’s win and 15 saves on Saturday to earn Tournament MVP honors. The wins were Nichols’ third and fourth on the season, and his first since recording two shutout victories in the season-opening series against Alabama-Huntsville.

Against St. Cloud State (9-8-1), sophomore Spencer Naas led UConn with his second two-goal game of the season. Naas put the Huskies ahead twice, once to open the scoring and again in the second period to give UConn a 3-2 lead.

UConn sophomore Maxim Letunov put the Huskies ahead 4-2 in the third, and St. Cloud State would score with under a minute remaining to pull within one. SCSU outshot UConn 36-30 in a tightly contested game, but the Huskies earned their fourth win over a nationally ranked opponent this season.

In the trophy game, UConn was faced with a 1-0 deficit after the first period. Brown (3-10-1) was outshot 16-7 in the period, but managed to record the only goal.

The Huskies made a quick response after the break, as Naas scored his tenth goal of the season and third of the weekend just two minutes into the second period to tie the game at one. Max Kalter gave UConn the lead about halfway through the second on a goal assisted by Naas and newcomer Philip Nyberg.

UConn would not look back, as a third period power play goal from Benjamin Freeman and empty net goal from Corey Ronan sealed the Huskies’ first trophy since the 2003-04 season. UConn outshot Brown 34-16 in the game.

Next up for the Huskies will be a home game against Yale. Thompson and Huska will likely be available for UConn as they try to win their final non-conference game of the season.


Josh Buser is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at joshua.buser@uconn.edu.