At the heels of a three-game losing streak, the Huskies brought energy into their 5-1 win over the University of Vermont Friday night.
The freshman class led the way once again as UConn improved to 11-20-2 overall and 6-15-2 in Hockey East play. Jonny Evans earned the game’s number two star for his two goal contribution, while Ruslan Iskhakov was tabbed the number three star for his three assists. The two goals extends Evans’ total to eight on the season, with five of them coming since his return following a concussion that sidelined him for over a month.
“Jonny gives us so much depth because of his skill and the way he and Ruslan work together, the chemistry they’ve found with Max in the middle just being that glue guy,” Miles Gendron said. “It sucks we didn’t have him the whole year, but you gotta play the cards you’re dealt.”
Gendron had himself a night as well, claiming the game’s number one star. The senior captain opened up the game’s scoring after he took the feed from Iskhakov through the toe drag and fired a wrister for the score just shy of the four-minute mark. Iskhakov was not done yet dishing out dimes, however, keeping the pressure on.
Just a couple minutes later, Iskhakov skated up the left side, entering the offensive zone before he turned the puck over on a missed toe drag. The Moscow native shifted gears immediately and forced a Catamount turnover with the help of a poke check. Now skating with the puck, Iskhakov slipped a pass backwards and between his legs to Evans, who worked a give-and-go with classmate Jachym Kondelik for the goal, leaving the 3,837 in attendance with their jaws wide open.
“I mean you just drop your jaw. We’re fans at that point,” Gendron said. “If you’re sitting on the bench it’s pretty cool. They made a great play and Rus is always making great passes and then Jonny’s got a great finish, so it was good.”
Vermont (12-19-2, 5-16-2 Hockey East) could not take advantage of the four power play opportunities they were given, including a 5-on-3 early in the second period. One elbowing call on UVM at 13:05 was all UConn would need.
The Huskies meticulously circled the puck around their zone in what looked like a child’s game of “keep away,” with UVM left to chase behind. Eventually, Wyatt Newpower sent the puck to Gendron at the top of the zone, who found Alexander Payusov down in the left circle. The one-timer is routine at this point for Payusov, who extended his team-lead in goals scored to 16, with only three seconds left on the power play.
“It was excellent,” head coach Mike Cavanaugh said on the power play execution. “We won a lot of battles to keep that play alive. We didn’t let them ice the puck when they had chances, so we were able to wear them down. I don’t know if those four guys got off the ice. They were out there for the full two minutes…. That’s Sasha’s spot. If he gets the puck there and he can hit it, there’s a good chance of it going in. It was really a big goal for us.”
A few moments prior, Kale Howarth scored the team’s third goal of the night. Junior Ben Freeman shot and missed, leaving Howarth to control the rebound and score his fifth goal of the season, wrapping his way around the net.
Goaltender Tomas Vomacka got the start on “Mullet Night” at the XL Center. While players had mullets on their introduction pictures and fans were treated with the “Mullet cam” and “Guess that Mullet,” the freshman backstop improved to 6-7 on the season and stopped 34 of the 35 pucks sent his way, letting one sneak its way by him late in the second period.
Though he thought his guys “played the score” in the third period, Cavanaugh was impressed with the team’s pursuit of the puck following their 5-2 loss to Providence last Tuesday.
“One of our points of emphasis tonight was to pursue the puck and win a lot of battles. I thought against Providence last Tuesday, that was part of our problem,” Cavanaugh said. “We didn’t win a lot of battles, so we really focused on that Wednesday and Thursday and we knew that we had to get traffic and multiple shot shifts against [Stefanos] Lekkas to beat him because, as I said, I think he’s as good a goaltender in our league. And tonight, we were able to do that. He didn’t really have a chance on a couple of those goals we scored.”
Lekkas stopped 32 shots in his 19th loss in net for UVM. Even late in the game, the Huskies continued to throw pucks on net as Iskhakov and Evans found eachother once again.
Iskhakov fired a puck near where Evans was positioned in front of the goal. Even with the puck fairly high in the air, Evans managed to get his stick on it for the deflection score. It was Iskhakov’s third assist of the night and 15th on the year. In the last eight games, the 18-year-old has assisted nine times and scored three goals.
UConn, a team out of postseason contention, has won four of its last seven contests largely due to the veterans leading the way. Even though Cavanaugh did not think it would take this long to play this well, he is happy with how the group has handled their position in the standings.
“I think that’s a credit to the leadership we have in that room,” Cavanaugh said. “Those three guys: Max Kalter – it was his birthday today so it was a nice present for him – Miles and Karl, they’ve really been the heart and soul of our program. They’ve bleed blue the entire time they’ve been here. They haven’t let these younger guys get discouraged with where we are in the standings. In the last eight games, I think we’re finally playing to the potential I was hoping we’d play to a little earlier, but it took some more time this year.”
The next time the Huskies take the ice, it will be the last time the three seniors wear with the UConn blue. UMass closes out the season in their trip to the XL Center next Friday on Senior Night, where the seniors will be honored for their contributions to the program.
“We just want to build a winning identity and just play a solid 60 minutes. Everyone’s just playing hard and trying to leave the seniors out on a good note,” Evans said.
Kevin Arnold is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.