The UConn men’s hockey team opened up its Hockey East schedule with a 3-2 win at Merrimack on Friday night. Then, Merrimack came back with a 3-2 win of its own on Sunday at the XL Center.
The Huskies (2-3-1, 1-1-0 Hockey East) struggled to generate consistent offensive pressure in both games and failed to take full advantage of an inexperienced Merrimack team (2-6-0, 1-2-0 Hockey East) by picking up a pair of wins to open up conference play.
“It’s a missed opportunity,” head coach Mike Cavanaugh said after Sunday’s loss. “I think every time you lose a game, I feel like there’s a missed opportunity. It’s disappointing because we haven’t played well at home. We’re actually playing better on the road than we are at home, and that’s something I’d like to rectify because our fans are great and they deserve better.”
UConn has yet to win at home, falling to 0-3 with the loss on Sunday.
On Friday, the Huskies pulled out a victory despite being outshot 38-18. UConn made its opportunities count, as Jachym Kondelik netted two goals, including one short-handed, to bring his team-leading total to four. Jonny Evans scored the other UConn goal on a terrific play where he went around the goalie and snuck the puck in the corner of the net.
Tomas Vomacka made 36 saves in the hard-fought win. Once UConn took the lead at the end of the second period on Kondelik’s second goal, the offense didn’t generate much pressure, putting just one shot on net in the third period while mostly playing back and trying to protect the one-goal lead. As a result, Vomacka had to be at his best and he was, making 12 saves in the final period.
On Sunday, the Huskies jumped out to an early 1-0 lead on a power-play goal by Kale Howarth, who was set up in the slot by a perfect pass from Alexander Payusov, his fourth assist of the year. However, after that, the Huskies weren’t able to create much offense while the Warriors scored three unanswered goals.
“I think the most disappointing was a point of emphasis for us in this game was to establish some offensive zone play, and we weren’t able to do it,” Cavanaugh said. “Credit to Merrimack. They played pretty well, and they do a great job of protecting their net. We had opportunities to kick pucks out to the point. I thought we were a little stubborn and tried to go through the minefield in front of the net and that cost us quite a bit.”
After that first power-play goal, UConn got five more power-play chances but didn’t capitalize on any of them, finishing just 1-for-6. Merrimack head coach Scott Borek said the main adjustment on the penalty kill was to protect the weak side of the ice, and clearly it worked, as UConn seemed to have no answer.
In the third period, Ruslan Iskhakov scored his second goal of the season by weaving through the Merrimack defense to cut the lead to one, but it was too late and UConn had to settle for a weekend split.
Cavanaugh called Sunday a “very defensive game” with just 38 shots combined between the two teams. He said he thought UConn played very well defensively, but the team has to get better on the forecheck going into a tough series with No. 15 Boston College next weekend.
Danny Barletta is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He tweets @dbars_12.