When the UConn men’s hockey team is energized and motivated, few can stop them. Saturday was no different, as they took down No. 12 Northeastern in their own facility in overtime.
“I was very happy with the way we responded today, in all facets of the game,” head coach Mike Cavanaugh said post-game. “I thought our defense was good, I thought we created a lot of offense. We won special teams, which is something we’ve been really harping on lately. It was a good power play goal for us to win the game, so I am really really happy. That’s a great team we played tonight and our effort was excellent.”
After the first period, no penalties were charged to either side until two minutes into overtime. Northeastern’s (13-7-2, 8-5-1 Hockey East) Jeremie Bucheler drew a call for holding UConn’s (9-10-4, 6-7-2 Hockey East) Vladislav Firstov near his own goal. Forty seconds later, Jake Flynn chucked the puck at the net and senior Benjamin Freeman slammed it into the back of the net.
UConn played Northeastern two weeks prior and were absolutely taken out to lunch by the Huskies from the north, losing 5-2 at home while being outplayed in every phase. This game was an entirely different story.
They played consistently well going forward, making quick and decisive moves to push the puck. On the defensive side they guarded the dangerous Northeastern transition game with energy and poise.
“I’m happy with the way we played today,” Cavanaugh said. “A couple weeks ago we played this team and we weren’t really even in the game. We made a late push, but it was all Northeastern in that game.”
UConn came out with a bang, as Firstov picked up the puck just over a minute into the first period and streaked down the middle of the ice before sending it flying by goaltender Craig Pantano’s glove-side.
The Huskies took a 1-0 lead and were able to keep it for the next 24 minutes, until Grant Jozefek’s first goal and then second seven minutes later.
With just three minutes left in the second period, Firstov picked up a sequence from Wyatt Newpower and Ruslan Iskhakov in front of the net and secured his brace, tying the game at 2-2.
The third period saw no goals despite the 24 total shots taken between the two teams.
Both goaltenders had great nights between the poles, especially Tomas Vomacka. UConn’s sophomore stopper had a 35-save performance and stopped 11 or more shots per regulation period, plus one in overtime.
Pantano, Northeastern’s No. 1 option in net, is a grad-transfer from Merrimack and has put on a display this season. Even in Saturday’s loss, he cleaned up shot after shot from UConn. He finished the night with 41 saves, having stopped 13 in each period of regulation and a pair in overtime before the winner.
UConn has now won two conference games in a row, following a four-game losing streak, putting them in a tie for sixth in the conference with Boston University at 14 points apiece. They have just nine more conference matchups to go, and two of them are with BU.
Their next matchup is Saturday, Jan. 25 at the Connecticut Ice Festival versus Quinnipiac at 4 p.m., followed by a game against either Sacred Heart or Yale on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. or 7 p.m. depending on a win or loss Saturday. All games will be televised on SNY and take place at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Conn.
Saturday’s game was an important step forward for the Huskies, who have been streaky this season. I would not be surprised if they went on another extended positive run like they did earlier in the season, but they have to stay motivated and energized.