After dropping both games against Boston College last weekend, UConn men’s hockey team had an even tougher task ahead this weekend with a pair of matchups against No. 12 UMass Lowell. This time though, the Huskies came out on top, tying the River Hawks 3-3 at the XL Center Friday before coming out on top 2-1 away from home Saturday to take the weekend series.
“I think this team has a belief in itself, I do,” head coach Mike Cavanaugh said. “Maybe it took to be embarrassed last week to say, ‘hey we have to play the game the right way, we can’t cheat, and we can’t rely on skill.’ It’s gotta be more will than skill and I thought that was evident tonight.”
UConn (3-5-2, 2-3-1 Hockey East) hosted UMass Lowell in their first meeting in what ended up being a very defensive matchup where the River Hawks got only 15 shots on goal, a season-best for the Huskies. It was all UConn starting in the first period, getting off 11 shots compared to UMass Lowell’s three, but the visitors only needed one shot to get on the scoreboard.
On the River Hawks first power play of the night, Charlie Levesque found Connor Sodergran at the right circle who buried the one-timer, earning his first goal of the season. UConn had control the remainder of the period and found the equalizer with just over two minutes remaining. Freshman Yan Kuznetsov found senior Sasha Payusov in the left circle who lasered the puck glove-side and in. It was also the first goal of the season for the senior.
The second period brought more offense, as both teams found the back of the net twice. UMass Lowell took the lead back early on, scoring on another powerplay, as Colin O’Neill slipped a wrist shot past Tomas Vomacka for the team’s second goal on the night. The Huskies took just 54 seconds to respond with a rebound from Marcus Gatcomb, his third goal of the season.
“I thought our team did a great job all night,” Wyatt Newpower said. “Even when they scored their other goals, I thought we came back and we were firing back all night so that was great to see.”
The Huskies stopped the trend later in the second and took their first lead of the night on a goal from Kale Howarth. The sophomore redirected the initial shot from Benjamin Freeman to sneak the puck past Wall.
With just under a minute left, though, UMass Lowell tied the score once again. Chase Blacknun found a streaking Matt Brown who finished his breakaway chance for his fifth goal of the year, second-best on the team.
The defenses kicked in for the third period, especially for the Huskies and Vomacka, who turned away several prime chances for the River Hawks. UConn had the best chance in OT, as Brian Rigali missed on a breakaway chance, resulting in the 3-3 final score. Howarth spoke about the significance of this game regardless of the tie.
“It was huge for the team,” Howarth said. “All the boys are pretty fired up, it was a statement game for us, that’s the expectation going forward and I think we’ve still got more to prove.”
The Huskies were able to pull off the upset in their rematch Saturday, handing the River Hawks their first conference loss of the season and heading home having won the weekend series. This time out the goals came from senior Newpower and junior Brian Rigali en route to the team’s biggest win of the season.
The defense from their first meeting carried over into this one, as both teams remained scoreless after the first period with the Huskies having a slight 10-8 advantage in shots on goal. UConn broke the seal in the second after an initial save on Vladislav Firstov’s shot was rebounded by Newpower to give the Huskies the lead. It was Newpower’s first goal on the season, and the period would end with UConn up one.
The Huskies doubled their lead halfway through the final period off another rebound. This time it was Kuznetsov sending the puck towards the net where, after the first save was made, Rigali slotted home his third of the season.
UMass Lowell responded with just over a minute left in the period when they had a 6-4 rush after a UConn penalty. Jon McDonald ripped a shot from just inside the blue line past Vomacka to cut the lead in half, but from there on the Huskies would lock down and seal the victory. Newpower talked about the change he saw from this team just a week ago compared to now.
“We kind of did some soul searching after [last week] and kinda found out what team we are gonna be the rest of the year,” Newpower said. “We went to work this week and we worked on just getting tougher and being a tougher team to face and I think we showed that.”
This was a standout performance by the Huskies defense, who blocked 24 shots on the night, and Vomacka, who racked up an impressive 29 saves including some crucial ones to make sure UConn kept their lead.
This weekend was just what the Huskies needed coming off a tough weekend against BC, and UConn will look to carry that momentum into next weekend as they prepare to face off against No.10 Providence College.