The UConn men’s hockey team hosted Army and RPI this weekend in their home-opener. The Huskies dropped both games, but with almost two-thirds of their team being underclassmen, there is undoubtedly growth in store as the season progresses.
UConn (0-2-1) kicked the weekend off with a matchup against Army. The game was back-and-forth but would end in a 2-1 loss for the Huskies. The team looked good defensively, but only got the offense going in the third period after falling behind. Despite not being able to convert their chances to goals, head coach Mike Cavanaugh saw some positives in their home-opener.
“I thought we played a decent game for two periods and played a great game in the third period and we didn’t bury our chances,” Cavanaugh said. “In the third period I thought we started to tilt the ice and had some chances, and I think in this game when you get chances to score you gotta bury them.”
After shooting the puck just 27 times in the first two periods compared to Army’s 40, the Huskies let it rip in the third, getting off 30 shots in the final period alone. By the final buzzer, 28 of UConn’s 57 total shots ended up on target, but just one went in, leaving Cavanaugh and the offense with plenty of room for improvement as the season continues.
“At times I thought we were too cute trying to make that extra move, but when you’re around the net you really have to try to shoot it through the net,” Cavanaugh said. “You have to get it off quick and shoot it hard and not be so concerned with trying to put it in a certain spot.”
On the defensive end, Army’s goals came off a faceoff in what Cavanaugh called a “knuckleball shot” and a rebound that was initially saved by sophomore goalie Tomas Vomacka. Even though they are incredibly young, Cavanaugh was impressed with his defenders and knows they will continue to help the team as they grow together.
“I like a lot of things with this club, right now we have a roster of really good players … We had four freshmen defensemen tonight and I think they all held their own at times,” Cavanaugh said. “It’s gonna be a good group.”
UConn had a quick turnaround, playing RPI Saturday, but after getting off to a hot start would drop their second straight, this time losing 5-3.
The Huskies scored the first goal of the game seven minutes in. Senior Justin Howell protected the puck in RPI’s corner before passing it out to freshman Yan Kuznetsov, who ripped a shot from just outside the circle and into the top right of the net.
UConn had other big chances to extend their lead, headlined by a couple opportunities from freshman Vladislav Firstov, but the first period ended with the Huskies up 1-0.
Inexperience began to show again in the second period and RPI scored two goals in the first four minutes to take the lead. Halfway through the period, UConn turned up the pressure and found themselves with several scoring opportunities but were unable to capitalize on any, and instead gave up another goal to RPI with two minutes left to make it 3-1.
A pair of RPI goals to start the third made it 5-1 Engineers, but as was the case against Army, the Huskies took over for the remainder of the period. Two minutes after RPI scored their fifth goal, UConn got another goal from a first year, this time coming from Firstov on a wrap-around assist from sophomore Jachym Kondelik.
Kondelik would score his own goal with 12 minutes left, but despite many more golden opportunities for the Huskies, the game would end with the Engineers winning 5-3, the main difference being conversion rate on shots.
“When they [RPI] had scoring chances they buried them, and I can think of five times when we had point blank shots and missed the net,” Cavanaugh said. “It’s something that we’ll continue to work on, making sure we hit the net.”
Cavanaugh was also incredibly impressed with the play of his freshmen even though they still haven’t won a game.
“I’m very confident in this team. I thought Kuznetsov had his best game of the year, I thought Jake Flynn played really well [and] Harrison played well,” Cavanaugh said. “That wasn’t really the issue, it was more as a team working together as a unit, not having enough back pressure.”
UConn lost both games this weekend, but as the team gains more experience better results are surely in store. Their next chance to earn a win comes in a rematch against RPI this Friday.
Conner Gilson is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He tweets @connergilson03.