This weekend the UConn men’s hockey team had a rough go of it in their home debut this season, losing both games against Army and RPI after struggling to bury opportunities all series long.
“It was a good hockey game and the third period I thought we started to tilt the ice and had some chances,” head coach Mike Cavanaugh said post-game Friday. “In this game, when you get chances to score, you gotta bury it”.
Friday’s game against Army started off slow, with little action aside from an Army penalty in the third minute of play that was killed. Then with just a few seconds left in the period, Kale Howarth had a 1-on-1 opportunity but his shot slid just left of the post. The sophomore finished with three shots and a blocked shot on the night.
Action really started to pick up in the second period, with Army quickly getting down ice after the buzzer and throwing a puck at UConn goalie Tomas Vomacka, who grabbed the save. Vomacka, a second-round pick in the 2017 NHL draft by the Nashville Predators, grabbed a pair of saves a couple minutes later. His saves didn’t hold, however, as Army’s John Zimmerman crushed a slap-shot into the top right of the net off of a face-off with 16:43 to go in the period.
UConn didn’t allow Army to celebrate for long as they got right back into it on the first goal of the season from Brian Rigali, who deflected a Carter Berger long-shot into the back of the net from inside the crease.
Following a series of killed powerplays from both teams — which Cavanaugh said UConn needs to work on in the post-game presser — Army put away the eventual game-sealing goal as Marshal Plunkett slid the puck across the net and Daniel Haider slotted it away to put it 2-1.
“I thought we played a ___ game for two periods, I thought we played a great game in the third period,” Cavanaugh said post-game Friday. “We didn’t bury our chances. I thought their goal tender played well. I thought that they played hard.”
UConn flashed its potential in the third period, with a host of shots directed at Army goaltender Trevin Kozlowski. Of its 61 total shots taken throughout the game, 34 of them were in the third period. However, just seven of those 34 were on target. The period was marked by aggressive UConn offense, but also consistent missed opportunities.
“Right now, I think we have a roster of really good players — who are clearly not a team yet — and that will come, but there were a lot of positives I could take out of this game tonight,” Cavanaugh said post-game Friday.
The Huskies had a quick turnaround, playing less than 18 hours after Friday’s final buzzer sounded. They didn’t fare much better in the second match, however, dropping their match versus RPI 5-3.
“We got behind the eight-ball; we actually had a pretty good first period,” Cavanaugh said. “We gave up too many odd-man rushes, we played a little too not as structured as I’d like to play.
They started off strong, with freshman Yan Kuznetsov demolishing a stray puck into the top right corner from just outside of RPI’s defensive face-off circle to give UConn the lead with just under 13 minutes to go in the first.
A couple more chances passed as both teams got dangerous looks at goal, but neither could finish and the period ended 1-0 in favor of the Huskies. Howarth also laid all of his 6-foot-4 frame into an RPI player against the boards that left him crumbled on the ice for a few seconds.
Between periods, UConn invited the 2000 UConn men’s hockey team out onto the ice to drop a banner in memory of their MAAC championship 19 years ago.
Just 41 seconds after the puck drop in the second, RPI buried their first of many goals of the afternoon. Chase Zieky finished off a cross-net pass from Nick Bowman, who had attracted both UConn defensemen to the right side of the ice, which left Zieky open for his goal-scoring shot.
They tacked on another a few minutes later as Zieky took the puck up ice and hit trailer Simon Kjellberg, who then smacked it in off of the post. The goal went under review but stood as it seemed to be inconclusive whether it was a goal or not, so they went with the call on the ice.
RPI grabbed one more with a couple minutes left in the period, as senior Will Reilly picked up a loose puck off the boards and hit another shot passed Vomacka, the third of the period.
The third period started just the same, with two quick goals for RPI. RPI’s Ryan Mahshie and Zieky both scored in the first minutes of the period.
UConn showed their fight, however, as freshman Vladislav Firstov scored his first goal as a Husky after Jáchym Kondelík wrapped around the net and forced the rebound opportunity. Kondelík quickly followed that up with a tip-in off the post and in, after Harrison Rees’ long shot.
“We really got behind the eightball and we started to turn it around,” Cavanaugh said. “I like the fact that we were down 5-1 and we made a comeback, we were playing pretty well.”
Despite having the time to climb all the way back from 5-1 down, UConn was not able to scale the mountain and the game ended in favor of RPI.
“It’s a long season and it’s my job to make sure that this team is getting better every week and improving as a program,” Cavanaugh said post-game Saturday. “While this weekend was disappointing for us, I still feel very good about this team. I feel very confident in myself and the staff that we’ll get this team going in the right direction.”
UConn will play RPI again next weekend, this time in New York, before taking some time off ahead of their next tilt away at Merrimack on Nov. 3.
Mike Mavredakis is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com. He tweets @mmavredakis.