It was a successful weekend for the UConn men’s hockey team as they earned a sweep over New Hampshire, with wins Friday and Saturday night with 5-3 and 4-2 wins, respectively. The Huskies close out the regular season at 12-14-8 while going 8-10-4 in Hockey East play.
“I think from start to finish it was probably the best weekend we had all season long,” UConn head coach Mike Cavanaugh said.
In order to salvage home ice in the playoffs after a late-season skid, the Huskies would need to sweep the Wildcats and get some help from other teams in the conference. The Huskies did their part, but a Merrimack victory over Vermont Saturday night sealed UConn’s fate as the nine-seed.
UConn will hit the road for the playoffs; meaning Saturday’s senior night game was the last home game for seniors Evan Richardson, Rob Nichols and Brian Morgan.
Before the game, we said, ‘Are you gonna win it for the seniors?’ ‘Are you gonna win it for home ice?’ ‘Are you gonna win it because it’ll give us the best record UConn’s ever had in Hockey East?’ And we, as a team, said that we didn’t need a reason to win the game,” Cavanaugh said. “If the game is scheduled, that’s enough of a reason to play. I think these guys really responded, and I was very happy.”
The teams traded goals in an action-packed first period, heading into the first intermission tied at two. Liam Blackburn and Tyler Kelleher scored for the Wildcats while Max Kalter and Tage Thompson found the back of the net for the Huskies.
But it was all UConn from there as they outshot UNH 27 to 9 in the final two frames en route to the 4-2 victory.
Certainly the highlight of the night was Richardson’s goal in the second period. The British Columbia native came flying into the zone, spun around, lost his balance and fired in a no-look backhanded shot before hitting the ice.
In addition to ultimately being the game-winning goal, Richardson’s shot was ranked number one on SportsCenter’s “Top 10 Plays of the Night.”
“I think I was trying to look for a pass backdoor,” Richardson said. “Initially I was trying to get the puck over there, and I kind of lost it and I had to spin around so I just fired it at the net. It was pretty lucky.”
Nichols had to make just 14 saves for the victory in his final game at the XL Center. Junior Corey Ronan added the empty net goal to put the exclamation points on the victory.
Looking towards the playoffs, nine-seed UConn will travel up to Boston for a series with defending Hockey East champion, eight-seed Northeastern. The two teams met earlier this season with Northeastern outscoring UConn 7-1 in a weekend sweep.
The Huskies have never made it past the first round of the Hockey East playoffs. Nichols said the team is looking forward to the opportunity to do just that.
“Obviously we’d rather be [home] than on the road,” Nichols said. “We’re just happy we’re playing next weekend. We’re gonna go up there and give it everything we have. We’ve never beat Northeastern, I think that’s something we’re kind of excited for, an opportunity to get a series win and move on.”