The UConn men’s hockey team had an offensive outburst against a conference opponent, the Vermont Catamounts. Their 10 goals came on the backs of their underclassmen, who combined to score all but one of those goals.
“It’s been a really good month for our team, we are working hard and playing the game the right way,” head coach Mike Cavanaugh said post-game Saturday.
As a result of the weekend sweep, UConn (7-6-3, 4-4-2 Hockey East) have pulled into a three-way tie with No. 10 BC and Maine for sixth place with 10 points apiece. Vermont (1-11-2, 0-8-1 Hockey East) came into the weekend as the worst team in the conference, with just one point, and left just the same.
“It’s great, obviously we didn’t start the season like we wanted to, but I think now we’re starting to find a lot of chemistry with all four lines,” sophomore Marc Gatcomb said Saturday. “Everyone is contributing, everyone is doing their role so that helps a lot and down the stretch towards Christmas. These are the games you need to win, and we really bared down and have had a good stretch the last five games or so.”
UConn burst out of the gate Friday with a goal from sophomore Ruslan Iskhakov just two minutes in off of a pass from Kale Howarth. It was Iskhakov’s fourth goal of the season.
Vermont stormed right back with a goal at the end of the first period on a powerplay after Wyatt Newpower got whistled for interference about 30 seconds prior.
UConn struggled mightily with giving up powerplay opportunities in the first period, giving four on five whistles in the first 20 minutes. After the first, however, they gave up just three more penalties the rest of the game. Cavanaugh mentioned that to Newpower spoke up between the first and second period to get the team in line.
“He was just being a great leader, talked to us and got the team going because we were kind of sleepy in the first,” sophomore Jachym Kondelik said post-game Friday. “He has been all year, he’s been a great leader for us and I’m really looking up to him because he’s a great guy, great hockey player and a great leader.”
Vermont grabbed the lead in the second, with a goal from Ace Cowans 12 minutes in. It didn’t last long, though, as freshman Valdislav Firstov picked up his fifth of the season off assists from Ben Freeman and Carter Turnbull to tie it 2-2.
Kondelik provided the sealing goal 11 minutes into the third period on a pass from Alexander Payusov, who wrapped around the net and put the puck on a tee for Kondelik to hammer home.
“It’s never easy to win in this league and I thought Vermont played a really hard game and forced us out of our game, especially in the first period,” Cavanaugh said post-game Friday. “We had to kill four penalties, that’s the most penalties I think we’ve had to kill in a period all year long. I was happy with the way we responded in the second and third period, with the exception of our power play.”
UConn had five power play opportunities on the night but scored no goals on six total shots. They spent too much of their time in their defensive zone to be successful on short-handed chances.
The game ended 3-2 with UConn taking home two points. Vermont made it a difficult game and post-game Cavanaugh said Vermont took UConn out of their game well.
Then in game two, it was UConn with the power play opportunities early. They scored a minute into a power play resulting from Vermont’s Cory Thomas’ interference penalty, as Marc Gatcomb slotted a crisp passing maneuver into the net. Kondelik handled a Newpower pass from the blue line and laid it off for Gatcomb in front of net so he could smash it in.
Three goals happened in the span of four minutes, as Vermont tied it up, then Turnbull netted for his fourth of the season and Vermont responded a minute later with the tying goal again.
UConn’s Carter Berger scored his first career goal five minutes into the fifth period on a power play. Brian Rigali scored nearly immediately after by grabbing the puck off a pair of shots rebounded off of Stephanos Lekkas, the Vermont goaltender.
Jonny Evans picked his spot three minutes later, gathering a Jake Flynn pass from near the blue line and putting it away from Lekkas’ stick-side. He would go on to score two more goals in the third period, to give him the first hat-trick of his career.
His goals book-ended a five-minute major penalty charged to UConn for Justin Howell’s headbutt of a Vermont player. Howell was ejected from the game and accredited with a slashing and a game misconduct penalty as well.
“I am certainly pleased and happy with the way our team responded, it wasn’t the start to the third period that we wanted but I think we dug deep, especially killing that five-minute major,” Cavanaugh said post-game Saturday. “Then the thing I was most excited for when we closed the game out was Ruslan, Kale and Jonny all go out with a minute and 50 seconds to go and they don’t even let them come out of their zone. That shows me that we’re a team playing on our toes, playing to win, that we’re not sitting back.”
Saturday’s matchup ended 7-4 in favor of the Huskies, capping off an exciting weekend full of offensive hockey.
Heading into the break, UConn is well-positioned to make a solid run the rest of the season. They have won their last four games and took points from ranked teams in the previous weekends prior.