The UConn men’s hockey team played well and fought hard this weekend against nationally-ranked Ohio State, but came away with only one point to show for it. The Huskies fell 5-4 on Friday night in a back-and-forth game and then battled to a 1-1 tie on Saturday in Hartford.
“We were resilient, I really liked our mental toughness all weekend,” said head coach Mike Cavanaugh. “Our record isn’t where we want it right now, but if we keep playing like this, it’s going to turn, and we’re going to get over the hump soon.”
UConn falls to 3-2-8, seventh-best in Hockey East. It’s been a rough stretch for the Huskies, with only one win in their past 10 games, albeit against some very talented opposition.
The Buckeyes are no exception. Ranked 17th in the country, Ohio State (6-3-3) entered having won four of their past six and having never lost to the Huskies.
UConn senior Jesse Schwartz was the star of the weekend, scoring three goals, including a late game-tying goal in the second game. Schwartz last scored on Jan. 23, 2016, and when asked if that weighed on him, he acknowledged it, but knew it was only a matter of time before breaking through.
“I guess there was a little bit [of pressure] in the back of my mind, I think it would be that case for anybody,” Schwartz said. “But I just kept plugging away and kept working hard, and it worked out for me.”
The Huskies, led by Schwartz, demonstrated remarkable persistence in the first game of the series, but couldn’t complete the comeback. The Buckeyes jumped out to a seemingly-insurmountable 3-0 lead early in the second period, but UConn did not go away.
Schwartz got the Huskies on the board, cleaning up a scrum in front of the Ohio State net. Shortly afterwards, UConn was awarded a penalty shot after sophomore Benjamin Freeman was hooked on a breakaway. However, Buckeye goalie Tommy Nappier, a freshman making his first career start, made the stop on the penalty shot. Nappier made a total of 35 saves in the game.
Senior Spencer Naas, who also had two assists on the night, brought the Huskies within one at the end of the period, scoring on a rebound from David Drake.
The floodgates opened in the third period, with each team netting two more goals. The Buckeyes re-extended their lead on a goal from Mason Jobst, and Schwartz quickly responded with his second of the evening. Just as with his first, Schwartz was in the right place at the right time, finishing off a rebound in traffic. Yet once again, UConn could not pull even, as Ohio State answered with a goal to push the lead to 5-3.
The Huskies then earned a five-minute power play for a game misconduct on OSU’s Christian Lampasso. But for the second time in a week, UConn failed to capitalize on the major. They did add a fourth goal courtesy of junior Max Kalter, but couldn’t find an equalizer, falling by a final of 5-4.
Senior Tanner Creel got the start on Friday, only his second start of the season. The rust was evident, as Creel allowed five goals, making 14 saves in two and a half periods before being replaced by Adam Huska. The Huskies outshot the Buckeyes 39-21, including an absolutely dominant 32-9 mark in the latter two periods, but just couldn’t dig themselves out of the early hole.
“That’s hockey,” Cavanaugh said after the loss. “Sometimes you just don’t get bounces, and we came up a goal short. I was very proud of the effort.”
Saturday’s rematch was a much more defensive affair. The first two periods went by scoreless, with Ohio State claiming a slight edge in shots, 18-16. The Huskies killed off three power plays and a video review called off a Buckeyes goal for goaltender interference.
Ohio State finally broke through against Huska at the 9:23 mark in the third period. Tanner Laczynski, who scored the previous disallowed goal, beat Huska glove-side to take a 1-0 lead.
The Huskies’ resilience showed up again and they found the game-tying goal with less than five minutes remaining. Freshman Adam Karashik threaded a center to Schwartz, who had a clear lane to the goal. Schwartz did the rest, burying it to tie the game at 1-1, which would hold for the remainder of the period. A five-minute overtime period yielded no more goals and the game ended in a 1-1 draw.
The Huskies finished with the lead in shots once again, at 30-25, but they could not capitalize on any of their five power plays. Huska had 24 saves, while OSU goaltender Sean Romeo had 29 on the night.
UConn is now 0-2-2 all-time against Ohio State. Up next for the Huskies is a weekend series against Hockey East foe UMass Lowell, who are currently one point above UConn in conference standings.