The UConn men’s hockey team returned to XL Center with a bang Friday night, routing Arizona State 5-1 in the team’s home opener. With the win, the Huskies improved to 2-1-0 in the young 2015-16 season.
“We wanted to compete and win battles,” said UConn coach Mike Cavanaugh. “We didn’t execute [that plan] for the entire 60 minutes, but for the majority of the game, we were able to accomplish that and come away with a 5-1 win.”
The Huskies found three different ways to score in the game’s opening period. The first way, a shorthanded goal, came just 1:42 in the match when Kasperi Ojantakanen slipped a wraparound shot past Sun Devils goalie Robert Levin. The goal, assisted by Corey Ronan, was UConn’s first shorthanded score since Jan. 12, 2013 against Robert Morris.
Levin severely strained his Achilles on the scoring play, according to Arizona State head coach Greg Powers after the game. As a result, Powers replaced Levin with Ryland Pashovitz, who had made 51 saves the night before in a 5-0 loss to Quinnipiac.
Play slowed in the middle of the first period before UConn’s offense awoke again. With 2:22 remaining in the period, Max Kalter collected a loose puck off an Arizona State turnover and fired a wrist shot into the net to extend the Huskies’ lead to 2-0. Joey Ferriss and Jesse Schwartz recorded assists on Kalter’s goal, which came at even strength.
Less than a minute later, UConn completed their special teams scoring cycle by notching a power play goal. Spencer Naas tipped a Maxim Letunov shot past Pashovitz to give the Huskies a 3-0 advantage. Joseph Masonius was also credited with an assist on Naas’ goal.
“We knew watching film that their penalty kill was somewhat passive, so we wanted to get the puck to Max,” Cavanaugh said of Letunov’s role on the man advantage. “He’s our playmaker, he’s our point guard on our power play. It runs through him.”
The Huskies dominated the second period. UConn outshot Arizona State by a 19-5 advantage in the second period after the Sun Devils led the first period in shooting.
Senior Shawn Pauly scored the 22nd goal of his career early in the second period to extend the UConn lead to 4-0. Pauly’s goal was a backhanded shot on a bouncy rebound allowed by Pashovitz, who was pulled quickly afterwards. Replacing Pashovitz in net was David Jacobson, the third Arizona State goalie to see action on Friday night.
In the third period, Arizona State got on the scoreboard for the first time. About six minutes into the period, Ryan Belonger fired a rebound past UConn goalie Rob Nichols to end the Huskies’ shutout and cut the UConn lead to 4-1. That was the only goal that Nichols allowed, as he made 24 saves and picked up the win in net.
Less than three minutes later, the Huskies scored again on the power play, with the usual suspects recording points. Naas used a nifty backhand to slide a rebound past Jacobson for his second goal of the game, with Letunov and Masonius providing the assists. UConn finished the night having scored on two of their six power plays.
“It’s essential that you have a power play that’s dangerous,” Cavanaugh said. “It makes the other team tentative. They’re afraid that if they take penalties, they’re putting themselves behind the eight ball in the contest.”
The Huskies closed out the game strongly, playing hard up and down the ice to secure the victory. Cavanaugh was very satisfied with his team’s all-around performance.
“We had contributions from all four lines tonight. That’s what we’re looking for, that’s when you can be very dangerous.”