On a night when the UConn men’s hockey team hoped to break the record for the longest win streak in program history, they instead took a heartbreaking 3-2 defeat to UMass in the regular season finale.
“It’s a somber locker room, and it hasn’t been that way for a long time,” head coach Mike Cavanaugh said following the loss. “It’s certainly a disappointing loss for our team, but it’s a good reminder that if you don’t play a whole 60 minutes, it’s up in the air if you’re going to win.”
After struggling to generate quality shots all game, the Huskies miraculously tied the game with under 1:30 left on an effort goal from senior Jesse Schwartz. However, only eight seconds later, the Minutemen answered with a stunning goal of their own and held on from there to quiet another electric crowd at the XL Center.
UConn closes the regular season with a 15-17-2 overall record, compiling an 11-12-1 resume against Hockey East opponents. The seven-game win streak ties the longest streak in program history. With the loss, they remain the five-seed heading into the tournament, though that could change depending on this weekend’s results.
The initial 10 minutes of the first period were played at a breakneck pace, though with no goals to show for it. At the 7:54 mark, senior Spencer Naas changed that, taking the puck up the left wing and firing from the left circle, beating the UMass keeper stickside for a 1-0 UConn lead. That goal extends Naas’ point streak to eight games with six goals and five assists in the span.
UMass (14-17-2), however, was quick to respond, tying the game at 1-1 with five minutes remaining in the first. After roughing penalties on both teams set up a four-on-four, UMass’s Ivan Chukarov took a one-timer set up by Niko Hildenbrand. UConn goalie Tanner Creel was well-positioned, but the puck squeezed through his legs for the equalizer.
It was déjà vu less than two minutes later, as the puck once again skirted through Creel’s pads for a 2-1 UMass lead. This time it was deflected off a Minutemen skater with the goal attributed to Austin Albrecht and Hildenbrand with his second assist of the night.
It was a frustrating second period for the Huskies. Although UConn had an 8-7 advantage in shots in the period, it was another 20 minutes mostly controlled by the Minutemen. If it wasn’t for a diving block by sophomore Wyatt Newpower, UMass may have extended their lead. Instead, it remained 2-1 heading in to the final period.
“I don’t think we played badly,” Cavanaugh said. “I don’t know if it was our best, but they played well. They really try to slow the game down, they played a good road hockey game.”
UConn finally came out in the third period with some energy and aggression, but it was mostly smothered by the stifling UMass defense. As the minutes ticked away, UConn’s chances at a comeback dwindled. Yet with 1:20 on the clock, the Huskies finally broke through.
Naas was once again the catalyst, getting the puck to the middle before being taken out by a Minutemen defender. The puck drifted to Schwartz. His first shot was stuffed but he followed it up, skidding the puck off the back leg of the UMass goalie into the back of the net. It was an ugly goal but a goal nonetheless, and it tied the game 2-2 with just over a minute to go.
But before the crowd could even sit back down, the Huskies were staring at another deficit. UMass won the faceoff and immediately pushed up the ice. UConn’s Corey Ronan fell down, opening up a lane for UMass’s Cale Makar. Despite a cluster of players between Makar and the goal, the puck somehow found the back of the net for the game-winner a mere 12 seconds after the Huskies thought they had forced overtime.
Conceding goals directly after scoring one has been a concern for the Huskies as of late. They gave up a pair of goals to BU last week, each less than a minute after UConn scored a goal of their own.
“We can’t give up a goal on the next shift right after we work so hard to tie the game up,” Cavanaugh said. “It was an unfortunate play, and I still don’t really know how the puck went in, but nonetheless, we need to be better for 60 minutes.”
The Huskies pulled Creel for an extra skater for the final minute but were unable to generate any quality looks, and just like that, the streak came to a heartbreaking end. But Coach Cav made sure the team remained positive heading into the postseason.
“I would’ve rather won the game, but it’s a great wake-up call for us,” Cavanaugh said. “When we move on, those losses end your season. Hopefully that’s something our team can learn from.”
UConn now awaits the results of other Hockey East teams this weekend to decide their postseason path, though they’ll likely end up with a home series in the first round. It’s a difficult loss, but the Huskies now set their sights on the playoffs.
Andrew Morrison is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He tweets at @asmor24