In the final game of the first half of the season, UConn and Merrimack put on a thrilling show in front of an XL Center crowd of 4,814. The teams combined for four third-period goals, including three in the final five minutes, to share the spoils of a 3-3 tie.
UConn took over in the second period after a scoreless first, breaking the deadlock just under four minutes in. Jesse Schwartz netted his second goal of the season, beating Merrimack goalie Collin Delia with a shot from the right circle.
UConn struck again seven minutes later, doubling their lead courtesy of Jeff Wight’s first career goal. Ethan Spaxman was sent to the box for hooking, and 1:18 into the power play, Schwartz found Wight wide open in the right circle. Wight fired the puck into the open net, putting the Huskies in control of the period.
In total, Merrimack took four penalties in the second period. UConn coach Mike Cavanaugh was pleased with his team’s play throughout the period, especially the way they drew four penalties in under seven minutes. However, he also realized his team missed the chance to grab a few more goals and put the game out of reach going into the third.
“We had a chance to maybe put them away there, and I don’t think we executed as well on those power plays,” Cavanaugh said. “The primary reason was that we didn’t win any face offs on those power plays.”
UConn dominated the face off battle, 34-23. However, they couldn’t win the draws when they needed to, allowing Merrimack to kill off most of the penalties with ease.
The third period was a completely different story. The play was even for the first few minutes before Merrimack finally got on the board 7:10 into the third. Ludvig Larsson scored his first career goal, putting the puck over a sprawling Rob Nichols. Larsson’s key goal swung the momentum in favor of the Warriors, who scored three unanswered goals to take a 3-2 lead.
“I don’t think we had that same urgency as we did in the second period,” Cavanaugh said.
Merrimack took the lead late in the third period on a series of bad UConn penalties. Corey Ronan was called for tripping in a three-on-three rush, putting the Huskies a man down. Just 49 seconds into the Ronan penalty, Joe Masonius was whistled for a hit from behind, putting UConn on the wrong side of a five-on-three power play.
“Obviously I was upset with myself, taking what I though was kind of a selfish penalty,” Masonius said. “But I know that I have to refocus myself and make sure I’m focused for the next shift.”
The Huskies were almost able to kill off Ronan’s part of the power play, but Mark Biega scored the tying goal for Merrimack with just seconds left on the five-on-three. Less than a minute later, Justin Hussar put the Warriors in front.
However, Masonius atoned for his earlier mistake in dramatic fashion. Biega went to the box with 1:40 left, giving UConn a man advantage. Masonius scored 21 seconds into power play, sneaking one past Delia’s right post. Assists on the tying goal were credited to David Drake and Max Letunov, his team-leading 12th of the year.
In the dying seconds of the game, Merrimack had one chance to win it before the horn sounded. Larsson took advantage of a misplay by Masonius near center ice, and took on Nichols one-on-one. Nichols, who stopped a key penalty shot against UMass-Lowell last Sunday, once again saved the game for the Huskies. He stopped Larsson stone cold, sending the game to overtime.
Tage Thompson had one golden chance to win it for the Huskies, but was unable to get a good shot off. The game ended, 3-3.
Merrimack (6-4-5, 2-3-5 HEA) is now winless in their last six games. Head coach Mark Dennehy was pleased with his team’s efforts to battle back from a two-goal deficit, but still thought his team might have been able to get more out of the game.
“Obviously, when you’re up a goal late, you’d like to win the game,” Dennehy said, “but we got a point trailing by two in the third, so it is what it is.”
UConn (5-10-1, 3-7-1 HEA) goes into their midseason break on a three-game unbeaten streak. The Huskies have taken five points out of their last six games, but currently sit 10th in the conference with just seven points in 11 games. They had an opportunity to make it eight points, and move into a tie for seventh place, but weren’t able to protect the lead they built up in the second.
“Overall, I think our lesson for the team is if you have a 2-0 lead in the third period, we’ve got to grow as a team and put those games away,” said Cavanaugh.
Peter Harasyko is a staff writer for The Daily Campus, covering UConn men’s hockey. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.