The UConn men’s hockey team split their opening series against Hockey East foe Maine, first losing in overtime then blowing out the Black Bears in the second game.
The Huskies (1-1) nearly staged an epic comeback in the season opener. The first period saw three goals, two of which were from Maine. Five minutes into the game, a costly UConn turnover set up the Bears with a two-on-one and Maine’s Tim Dougherty decided to take it himself and put it in the back of the net.
Five minutes later, the Huskies responded. Defenseman Johnny Austin delivered a well-timed puck to fellow senior Kasperi Ojantakanen, who buried the equalizer. The back-and-forth continued as Maine’s Rob Michel sniped a shot from the top right circle, beating UConn goalkeeper Adam Huska top shelf.
Only a minute into the second period, Huskies sophomore Benjamin Freeman decided to get in on the scoring frenzy. Senior Spencer Naas made a creative pass from behind the net, setting up Freeman for the finish, tying the game at 2-2. The tie would hold for most of period, until Maine’s Peter Housakos slotted it past Huska at the 12:53 mark.
After a potential game-tying goal for the Huskies was called off following a video review, UConn’s chances looked bleak. The clock in the third period counted down and the Black Bears’ defense was holding strong. However, with two minutes remaining, the Huskies earned a power play. That, paired with pulling the goalie, gave UConn a 6-on-4—and they took full advantage.
With less than 20 seconds remaining, junior Karl El-Mir got off a shot on goal. Maine’s goalie Rob McGovern made the save but it rebounded out in front of net, where UConn senior Jeff Wight was waiting. Wight, with a mere 15.9 seconds remaining, buried it to force overtime in dramatic fashion.
Wight’s heroics, unfortunately, did not last long. Only 28 seconds into overtime, Maine’s Nolan Vesey pushed up the left wing, and before a Huskies defender could make a stop, Vesey put one home past Huska, giving the Black Bears a 4-3 victory in their opener.
“It was a real kick to the gut,” head coach Mike Cavanaugh said the next day.
In game two, the Huskies returned with a vengeance. Five different Huskies scored, junior Miles Gendron had three assists and Huska recorded 38 saves en route to a 5-1 rout on Saturday.
The Huskies’ opening two goals both came off Gendron shot rebounds. Captain Derek Pratt got his team on the board with 14:58 on the clock, and two minutes later, on a power play, sophomore Alexander Payusov netted the first goal of his collegiate career.
Six minutes into the second period, junior Maxim Letunov got in on the action, scoring off yet another Gendron rebound to give UConn a commanding 3-0 lead.
The crucial moment of the game came at the beginning of the third period. The Black Bears cut into the lead on a Brendan Robbins wrist shot only a minute in, and immediately after they earned a two-minute power play. Just as it looked like the momentum was shifting, the Huskies put the nail in the coffin. Down a man, UConn senior Corey Ronan got off on a breakaway and buried the shorthanded goal, making it 4-1 UConn.
“[Corey’s goal] was huge for us,” Gendron said after the game. “Last year I think a lot of times we would’ve folded, but this year we have a lot of older leadership. Corey went out and took it upon himself, and that goal really stopped their momentum.”
Ronan was slightly less enthusiastic: “It was kind of a lucky goal, but I’ll take it.”
The Black Bears elected to play the final seven minutes of the game with no goalie, pulling McGovern in favor of an additional attacker. But the UConn defense shut them out from that point on. With less than three minutes remaining, the Huskies piled on to their lead, as El-Mir chipped home an empty net goal giving UConn a 5-1 lead that would hold for the remainder of the game.
The Huskies opened their season with a win and a loss, coming away with two points. They return to the ice next weekend on the road against two former Atlantic Hockey opponents: American International (0-2) on Friday and Sacred Heart (0-2) on Saturday.