Entering Wednesday night’s contest, the UConn men’s hockey team had lost their previous four games and were winless in their last five. Now tied for seventh place in the Hockey East ranking, their matchup against the University of Maine Blackbears was sizing up to be an intense competition, with the winning side hoping to turn their season around with 10 games left. The two teams did not disappoint, as it was the Huskies finishing on top 3-2 in comeback fashion and earning those vital two points.
“I was certainly proud of our team’s effort tonight,” Head coach Mike Cavanaugh said. “When you get down two goals, especially a team that’s been on a losing streak, you can fold. But I think our team really hung in there.”
As soon as the puck dropped you could see the mindset of both teams was to shut down their opponents offense, and with the final shot tally reading 8-8 at the end of the first period, you’d think that is exactly what happened. But the 2-1 score after one tells a different story.
After half of the period expired with little to show for it, UConn (8-10-4, 5-7-2 Hockey East), was called for their first penalty of the night. Huskies goalie Tomas Vomacka and the UConn defense did all they could, but with 12 seconds left in the power play, Maine sophomore Jakub Sirota scored his first goal of the year to take the early lead.
Just one minute later, the Blackbears (10-9-4, 4-7-2 Hockey East) struck again. This time it was Tim Doherty scoring his 10th on the season off of a nice between-the-leg feed from Mitchell Fossier. The senior’s 22 assists place him in second in the Hockey East conference behind only Jack Dugan of Providence.
The Huskies would cut the lead in half with a minute left in the first period after Carter Turnbull scored his team-leading seventh goal of the year. Turnbull took over the puck from sophomore Kale Howarth in the neutral zone and drove straight to net. His first couple shots were saved as he was sandwiched between two Blackbear defenders, but the third time was the charm for Turnbull, as he lifted the puck over and past the keeper to make it 2-1 after one period.
The Huskies carried that momentum into the second period and would find their equalizer just three minutes in. Sophomore Jachym Kondelik found himself behind Maine’s net, where he delivered a pretty pass to an open Sasha Payusov right in front of the goal. The senior did the rest, slotting the puck past the Blackbear’s keeper for his fifth goal of the season. Maine would get back on the power play after UConn was called for holding, but this time the Huskies’ defense stood strong, only allowing a couple shots with some big saves from Vomacka. After scoring on their first power play, the Blackbear’s would be shut down on their next four.
“We did a nice job, they adjusted,” Cavanaugh said. “We lost the special teams game today but we made some big kills when we needed it.”
The third period was full of quick, clean and hard-fought hockey, with both teams looking for the crucial win to put them ahead of the other, but it was the Huskies who kept their momentum going, scoring their third unanswered goal seven minutes into the final period.
In some of the prettiest hockey the team has displayed all season, UConn took the puck in the neutral zone with Vladislav Firstov. The freshman slotted the puck between defenders toward Ruslan Ishkakov, who quickly gave it up to sophomore Jonny Evans in Maine’s zone. Evans kept his composure and found Firstov again, this time in front of the net, where he backhanded the puck past the Blackbear’s goalie for the game-winning goal.
Maine turned up the pressure for the remainder of the period, but it was to no avail, as UConn keeper Tomas Vomacka was a brick wall for the Huskies, turning back 38 shots in what coach Cavanaugh said might be his best game of the year. As the final buzzer sounded, it was UConn who had completed the comeback, winning the game 3-2 and earning those big points against rival Maine.
“The third period was a great period. We made a play to win a hockey game and Tomas made some huge saves at the end so overall I was really happy with the win.”
Next up for the Huskies is a trip to Boston Jan. 18 to face off against No. 12 Northeastern. In their first meeting, it was Northeastern coming out on top 5-2. Puck is set to drop 4 p.m. and can be listened to on the radio at 97.9 FM