At the start of Tuesday night, UConn had never beaten Northeastern in hockey. The Huskies of Boston had always been top dog, holding a 10-0 record over UConn that included a playoff sweep last season.
However, history doesn’t matter once the puck is dropped, and when the final horn sounded, the Huskies of Storrs finally had a W in their win column.
UConn made the most of an excellent start and a streaking power play to squash Northeastern 4-1.
Riding a three-game winning streak, UConn came out of the gates roaring and asserted their will on Northeastern. Three different players scored goals in a first period that could not have been scripted any better.
Maxim Letunov opened the scoring on the power play when he hit Northeastern goalkeeper Ryan Ruck with a crossover move in front of the net and lifted the puck stick-side for his seventh goal of the season.
Johnny Austin lit the lamp less than a minute later and Jesse Schwartz proved good things come in threes when he scored in the closing moments of the period to send UConn into the intermission with a 3-0 lead.
“We talked about getting out and having a great start to the game,” Head Coach Mike Cavanaugh said. “That first period was probably the best period of hockey we’ve played this year.”
It was a first period start that seemed like a pipe dream a couple weeks ago.
UConn has let up 20 first period goals this season, the most in Hockey East. Earlier this season, it seemed like UConn started every game with a two-goal handicap. After Tuesday’s contest, UConn had either matched or outscored their opponent in the first period for four straight games.
Cavanaugh alluded to the idea that the team’s woes in the first period were more mental than physical.
“You’re going to go through stretches sometimes where you get scored on in the first period, you get scored on in the second period… I think what happens then is it becomes a mindset,” Cavanaugh said. “When it happens, it’s like ‘Oh no, it happened again.’”
UConn’s power play also seems to have turned the corner. After suffering a 0-12 stretch from Nov. 11-18, UConn has now scored at least one goal with the main advantage in three straight games.
Cavanaugh praised Assistant Coach Brendan Buckley for his work with the Huskies’ special teams after the game.
“He put in that breakout tonight and that got Max [Kalter] a breakaway to start with,” Cavanaugh said. “He did a pretty good job scouting that and implementing that breakout. They were really moving the puck around.”
Northeastern kept Ruck on the bench at the start of the second period. Cayden Primeau took over in the net and did his job of keeping Northeastern within striking distance.
Northeastern finally got on the board in the closing minutes of the second period. Senior forward Dylan Sikura sent a shot on net that deflected off an ownerless stick and past goaltender Adam Huska to cut the deficit to two goals.
UConn got some breathing room early in the third period after Alexander Payusov tipped in Austin’s rip from the blue line.
The goal could have served as Payusov’s welcome back present to the team as the sophomore forward made his first appearance on the ice since Oct. 28. Payusov has been on the shelf while combating the flu.
“Feels real good. Happy to be back,” Payusov said. “I didn’t think I played the best game tonight, so I just got to keep working.”
Jesse Schwartz’ first period goal was his sixth on the season after not collecting a single goal last season. Schwartz has had the hot hand of late. Over the past seven games, the senior forward has collected eight points on six goals and two assists.
Cavanaugh said Schwartz is seeing on-ice results for the work he’s done on his own time.
“It’s no magic secret he’s been putting in the work,” Cavanaugh said. “He’s been coming down in the morning and working extra with (Assistant Coaches) Tyler Helton and Joe Pereira. It’s paying off for him.”
The win pushes UConn’s record to 6-10-2 on the season and 5-6-1 in Hockey East.
UConn returns to action on Friday when they head to Amherst for a conference matchup against UMass.
Bryan Lambert is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.