With students already headed home for Thanksgiving break and with many eyes in the stands keeping track of a certain basketball game underway at Madison Square Garden, it looked like UConn Men’s Hockey was going to give the fans in attendance a game worth showing up for.
The Huskies were carving up UMass-Lowell’s defense, had a goal on the board within five minutes of puck drop and after one particularly energized offensive possession, the 3,443 in attendance gave the team a round of applause.
Then it all fell apart.
Although UConn outshot UMass-Lowell in every period, the Riverhawks took advantage of several lapses by the Huskies.
For head coach Mike Cavanaugh, the most damning moment was the Riverhawks’ second goal of the night. Looking to breakout of the UConn’s own zone, Benjamin Freeman turned up-ice but was tripped by a Riverhawk stick. The Huskies paused, expecting a whistle, and Lucas Condotta made them pay, burying the breakaway chance to make it 2-1 with less than a minute left in the first period. Although UConn played well, it was the small mistakes that ended up costing the Huskies dearly.
“At times we played some of our best hockey,” said Cavanaugh. “You can’t confuse effort with results either at times. Even though I thought we played pretty well, we didn’t get the result that we wanted.”
The Huskies effort did result in a goal less than five minutes into the game. Ruslan Iskhakov intercepted a Riverhawk pass in the neutral zone and undressed UMass-Lowell’s Tyler Wall to give the Huskies the early 1-0 lead.
However, Ryan Dmowski helped the Riverhawks erase the deficit just four minutes later. Conner Sodergen took the puck in deep behind UConn’s goal and found Charli Levesque near the right corner. The crashing Dmowski redirected Leveaque’s pass perfectly past UConn’s Adam Huska and into the net for the equalizer.
With a lead entering the second period courtesy of UConn’s mental lapse, and with the UConn fans showering the refs with boos, the Riverhawks continued with business as usual. After Dmowski added his second goal of the night, Ryan Lohin found the puck loose in front of the net and guided the puck home to give UMass-Lowell a commanding 4-1 with just under 15 minutes left in the second period.
The Huskies peppered Wall with 16 shots in the second period but the junior goaltender earned his last name, keeping the back of the net clean. Cavanaugh was pleased with the offensive pressure but acknowledged that Wall played better defense.
“When we got the puck down there, we won a couple [net battles] and he made a save,” said Cavanaugh. “But we did get a lot of pucks to the net. I was pretty happy with our forecheck and our offensive zone play.”
Neither team could score again until the opening moments of the third period. UConn senior forward Karl El-Mir was able to carry the puck to the front of the net and squeeze one past Wall to cut the deficit to two goals at the 2:28 mark.
With less than five minutes remaining in regulation, it looked like the Huskies had cut the deficit further. Iskhakov once again found himself alone on a breakaway and once again undressed Wall, brining the crowd at XL Center to their feet. It took several seconds for the UConn faithful to realize that the goal light hadn’t gone off and that the referee was empathically signaling no goal.
The referee ruled that a UConn skater had left the bench too early and the goal was waved off due to too many men on the ice.
“He wasn’t a factor in the play but to the letter of the law it was probably too many men on the ice,” said Cavanaugh. “I’ve seen that play let go quite a bit but it wasn’t tonight.”
Nick Master ultimately supplied the finishing touches for UMass-Lowell with an empty net goal with less than three minutes remaining on the game-clock.
From the chorus of boos raining down on the ice, it was clear who the fans thought deserved the blame for UConn’s 5-2 loss. However, Cavanaugh took ownership of his team’s mistakes.
“No referee’s call should ever dictate the game,” said Cavanaugh. “I can disagree with a referee but a referee’s call certainly isn’t why we lost tonight.
The Huskies are back in action Saturday afternoon for a 5:00 p.m. game at UMass-Lowell.
Bryan Lambert is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.