HARTFORD – Hockey fans came from all over the state of Connecticut on a snowy Saturday afternoon to see the UConn men’s hockey team take on the Yale Bulldogs in a battle of in-state rivals. Although it was a tightly contested matchup in some moments of the game, the Huskies were rather sluggish for much of the 60 minutes and ultimately fell to the Bulldogs by a score of 4-2. With the defeat, UConn remains winless against the Bulldogs in 12 games played over the last 46 years.
Perhaps the most eye-popping statistic of the game was the discrepancy in shots on goal between the two teams. UConn managed a measly 15 shots over three periods while Yale had more than that in the first period alone with 16. In fact, the Huskies’ first shot on goal didn’t come until 11 minutes into the game, when a slap shot from the point by Max Kalter drew sarcastic applause from the fans at the XL Center.
Although the UConn’s goalie Adam Huska was fantastic in net making 37 saves, the Bulldogs ultimately finished with 41 shots on goal, and likely won just based on the pure volume of opportunities in the offensive zone. Coming back from the World Junior Championships after playing in three games for Slovakia, Huska was likely the only person keeping the Huskies in the game Saturday.
“We know what a quality goaltender [Huska] is and I think our plan really was to get a volume of shots on him and eventually the law of averages works out, you’re going to get some,” Yale head coach Keith Allain said. “But I think Huska did a great job for his team.”
UConn head coach Mike Cavanaugh echoed Allain’s praise for his freshman goaltender.
“[Huska] was great. He was great all game,” Cavanaugh said. “I thought he made some big, big saves. Even when they scored the two power play goals, he made a great pad save on the backdoor to keep it at 3-2 and give us a chance going into the third period.”
Outside of Huska’s steady play in the cage the Huskies looked extremely lethargic all afternoon, making for a disappointing performance given the good stretch of play over the last month, including a win in the Desert Hockey Classic just last week.
“We just didn’t play well, and I guess I have to attribute a lot of that to Yale,” Cavanaugh said. “I thought they were quicker, they were winning the loose-puck battles, and they didn’t let us establish anything. It was all Yale, it was a 60-minute win for them and they didn’t really allow us to do anything.”
Junior forward Spencer Naas, who scored his 11th goal of the season Saturday, shared his coach’s opinion in the post-game press conference.
“For some reason, we were just a little bit flat tonight,” junior Spencer Naas said. “Give some credit to Yale too, they came out really hard. But we need to find a way to bring more energy and dictate the pace of play a little better.”
Thompson makes his return to the lineup
Along with the Slovakian Huska, UConn forward Tage Thompson also participated in the World Junior Hockey Championships, playing for team USA. Thompson played well for his country, tallying one goal and four assists in seven games for the U.S., helping them beat Canada 5-4 in the shootout for the gold. During the tournament, Thompson put a lot of minutes on his legs, as the Americans played the maximum seven games in just 11 days. Despite all that, Thompson still wanted to play for the Huskies as soon as he could, just two days later
“I give the kid [Thompson] credit, he got off the plane late last night and showed up at the rink today to play a hockey game. He’s just a hockey player,” Cavanaugh said. “I give him a lot of credit for playing in a tournament that intense, the World Junior tournament with the best players in the world under 20 years old. And he goes from winning a gold medal, it could’ve been very easy for him to say ‘Coach, I’m going to take today off.’ It doesn’t surprise me because he wants to be a hockey player, he loves being a hockey player and he loves being at UConn and we’re happy to have him here.”
Thompson suggested nothing was going to stop him from getting back on the ice as soon as he could.
“Obviously I was very excited to be back with my team,” Thompson said regarding playing not even 48 hours after the World Junior Hockey Championship. “I love the game so I want to play any chance I get, those are probably the biggest reasons I played right away.”
Next up, the Huskies will take on the Maine Black Bears at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport on Jan. 12, before taking on Maine again at Fenway Park for Frozen Fenway next Saturday.