Fresh off an upset win over No.18-ranked Yale on New Year’s Eve, the under-achieving Huskies floundered in their first chance to build momentum in 2019. In the four-team Ice Vegas Invitational Tournament in Las Vegas, the Huskies suffered a 5-1 loss at the hands of No.17-ranked Western Michigan on Friday night before rebounding against St Lawrence in the consolation game on Saturday.
The Huskies attempt to upend a second-straight nationally ranked opponent was an uphill climb from puck drop. Western Michigan suffocated UConn’s offense, limiting the Huskies to just two shots in the first period.
Junior defenseman Cam Lee and sophomore forward Austin Rueschhoff both found the back of the net in the games’ first 20 minutes. On the other side of the first intermission, Rueschhoff was able to tip home a shot by Jared Kucharek to put the Huskies in a three-goal hole just over three minutes into the second period. UConn finally found a much-needed goal at the 15:06 mark when senior forward Karl El-Mir scored his 10th of the season, a redirection in front of the crease.
However, the Mustangs put to bed any chances of a late UConn surge with a dominant third period. During a stretch of four-on-four play, defenseman Luke Bafia stole the puck in UConn’s offensive zone and stuffed the puck past Adam Huska to push the lead back to three goals. Forward Ethen Frank put the finishing touches on the Mustangs’ victory with a goal with less than 10 minutes left.
The following day, the Huskies saved some face in the desert by topping St. Lawrence 6-3 in the consolation game.
In a complete turn around of Friday night, the Huskies started the game on a fast and furious pace, gaining a four-goal advantage in the games’ first 10 minutes. Senior forward Max Kalter opened the floodgates at the 2:25 mark when he scored on a rebound chance. From there, a stretch of scoring from UConn’s freshman helped propel the Huskies further in front. Kale Howarth, Marc Gatcomb and Jachym Kondelik scored three goals in less than five minutes. Gatcomb’s goal was the first of his career.
St. Lawrence finally broke through just about halfway through the first period, but after a dominant first 20 minutes; the Huskies maintained a 4-1 lead.
UConn wasted no time lighting the lamp in the second period either. Just 4:49 into the second period, Benjamin Freeman found the back of the net for his fourth goal of the season and UConn’s fifth of the game. The Saints made it 5-2 off a goal from Kaden Pickering but Alexander Payusov became the sixth Husky to score when his wrist shot in the slot beat goaltender Daniel Mannella at the 17:27 mark.
Despite four power-play chances and two St. Lawrence goals in the third period, the Huskies did enough to leave Vegas with a 1-1 record.
The Huskies will be on the road again this weekend when they travel to Andover, Massachusetts to take on the Merrimack Warriors on Saturday.
Bryan Lambert is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.