The UConn men’s hockey team ended this weekend .500, beating Merrimack in their first game Friday before dropping their rematch Sunday. Both games ended with a 3-2 score, but the final results do not tell the whole story of the Huskies’ offensive performance, an area where Merrimack held a clear advantage in both matchups.
“I think the most disappointing thing was, a point of emphasis in this game was to establish some offensive zone play, and we weren’t able to do it,” UConn head coach Cavanaugh said about the second game. “[Merrimack players] do a great job of protecting their net, and when we had opportunities to kick pucks up to the point, I think we were a little stubborn and tried to go through the minefield that was in front of the net, and it cost us quite a bit.”
In their first meeting, UConn (2-3-1, 1-1-0 Hockey East) was able to walk away with their second win of the season thanks to strong performances from sophomores Jackym Kondelik and Jonny Evans. Despite the final score, it was Merrimack who had control for most of the game. The Warriors forced UConn’s keeper Tomas Vomacka to make 38 saves, more than double the shots the Huskies’ got on net in the game. Fortunately for UConn, a couple of the shots they got on net found their way past Merrimack’s keeper, resulting in the conference-opening victory for the Huskies despite a then-season-low 18 shots.
The second matchup was more of the same on the ice for UConn, but the final score looked a bit different. Merrimack head coach Scott Borek made defensive adjustments from Friday night’s game that proved crucial in his team coming out on top in their rematch, limiting the Huskies to a new season-low 17 shots on net.
“We really wanted to protect the weak side of the ice because they were looking for that,” Borek said. “We got less aggressive up top which allowed us to recover down low.”
UConn had their fair share of chances, as Merrimack’s (2-6-0, 1-2-0 Hockey East) struggles with penalties continued, racking up another seven in this matchup. The Huskies were only able to capitalize on the first, getting locked down on their other six. Cavanaugh attributed this to lack of execution in the game plan heading into the second game.
“We weren’t able to establish a forecheck, something that certainly we’re gonna have to work on in practice this week, because if you can’t establish a forecheck, get turnovers and create some offense off that it’s really hard to score goals,” Cavanaugh said.
Defense translating to offense was the storyline of this game, but UConn was unable to get anything going in the opponent’s zone, resulting in their limited opportunities. This has been true for the team for most of this young season, though, as the Huskies sit at the middle of the conference rankings in goals per match, ranking just ahead of UMass Lowell for the No. 6 spot, scoring 2.83 times a game.
Cavanaugh was impressed with his defense in this game, but said the team left plenty to be desired on the offense, something that will need to improve as they get deeper into conference play.
“I think we’re playing great defense in our own zone; I don’t think we gave up a whole lot,” Cavanaugh said. “But I think we’ve gotta do a better job of getting pucks down into the other teams opposing zone and getting multiple shot shifts.”
UConn’s next matchup is against Boston College, who are in a bit of a slump having lost four of their last five games. This game should provide the perfect opportunity for the Huskies to turn their offense around, as the Eagles currently rank second worst in goals allowed per game and No. 1 in total penalty minutes, while also holding the No. 1 spot for worst power play percentage.
Conner Gilson is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He tweets @connergilson03.