The UConn men’s hockey team flashed their potential in two riveting games against No. 12 UMass Lowell this weekend.
“That was certainly the first time at home that we have played to our potential,” head coach Mike Cavanaugh said post-game Friday. “That’s been our rallying cry all week, ‘let’s just play to our potential’ and wherever the chips may fall, they fall.”
UConn (3-5-2, 2-3-1 Hockey East) grabbed their first points in the conference this weekend with a tie at home Friday 3-3 and then a win 2-1 away in Lowell.
There were quite a few takeaways from both games, as they seemed like an entirely different team than they were against BC last weekend.
UConn played much better on the power play:
Coming into this weekend UConn scored on just one out of their first 22 power play opportunities on the year. However, on Friday they were able to grab two power play goals, which accounted for 67% of their overall scoring in the game.
“I thought we shot the puck, I thought our power play has been too perimeter, up until tonight,” Cavanaugh said. “You pass it around and it looks pretty but if you don’t get pucks to the net, you’re not going to score goals. So tonight, we shot the puck and [Alexander Payusov] beat the goalie and Ben Freeman shot one and Kale [Howarth] had a great tip.”
The Huskies were much more aggressive on advantaged opportunities, shooting the puck early in power plays instead of passing around the edge and shooting when there were just seconds left on the clock.
UConn improved puck movement astronomically:
Especially in their games against BC last weekend, UConn struggled to keep the pucks on their sticks. This weekend was entirely different. Against a better opponent, according to the AP polls, UConn dominated possession on the offensive side of the puck.
“We did really well with that tonight, there was a couple turnovers, but for the most part,” Cavanaugh said. “You’re never going to be perfect through the neutral zone, and Lowell wasn’t perfect through the neutral zone, but last week there was eight to 10 turnovers in the neutral zone – that’s going to kill you – so tonight I think that number was significantly lower.”
Cavanaugh had harped on the Huskies’ neutral zone performance against BC, but along with their improved passing ability was their control of the puck in the middle of the ice.
Tomas Vomacka showed up when he needed to:
Despite letting in a goal in each of the first three periods on Friday, when it came to it, Vomacka showed up in the final moments of the game to lock them down and secure the point. He impressed in the third period overtime especially, grabbing seven of his 12 saves in the final 25 minutes.
“Tomas really rose to the challenge in the third period,” Cavanaugh said. “I know he was frustrated, there was a goal he wanted back. The sign of a good goalie is when you’re in the third period in a tie game, he forgot about those other goals and made a couple big saves when we needed it.”
Then in game two, it was all Tomas, as he finished the night with 29 saves. Vomacka faced 16 shots in the third period but let just one in with a couple minutes to go. However, UConn was still able to grab the win thanks to goals from Wyatt Newpower and Brian Rigali.
This weekend was incredibly promising for a program that has been teetering for a few years. Their immense promise has peeked through the cracks on occasion, but this may be the time in which they have truly arrived at the next level.
Now is time to see whether they can use this weekend as a jumping off point or fall back to Earth and carry on with mediocrity.