There’s an old saying that if you’re going to take a trip up to Orono, Maine, at least make it worth your time.
Well, maybe I just made that up on the spot, but it applies here because the Huskies did take advantage of their weekend in Orono.
The cards were certainly stacked against UConn coming in, as the Black Bears (16-10-4, 10-8-2 Hockey East) were winners of five straight games — three against ranked teams — and they hadn’t lost at home all season. UConn had a streak of their own, as winners of four straight conference games, but they were idle for two weeks prior to this matchup.
The Huskies (12-13-4, 9-8-2 Hockey East) showed no signs of rust this weekend in a tough win on Friday and a near-repeat on Saturday.
In Friday’s game, UConn jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals by Jake Flynn and Alexander Payusov. Then Maine answered right back with two goals in the second period by Tim Doherty and Samuel Rennaker to tie it up.
UConn captain and Falmouth, Maine, native Benjamin Freeman netted the difference-maker in the third period to give the Huskies a 3-2 advantage. Tomas Vomacka made 14 saves in the final period to preserve the lead and hand the Black Bears their first home loss of the season. He had 24 saves overall. Carter Turnbull recorded assists on all three of the UConn goals.
Saturday’s game was a more physical and defensive battle as both teams struggled to find the back of the net. UConn dominated in shots for the majority of the game, but Jeremy Swayman refused to let anything by him, as did Vomacka.
After 57 minutes of scoreless hockey, it looked like Maine had finally broken through. Penalties by Wyatt Newpower and Adam Karashik resulted in a 5-on-3 opportunity for the Black Bears, and it looked like they cashed in with a goal. But after review, the refs waved it off for goalie interference, and the Huskies were able to kill off the rest of the power play.
The game went into overtime still scoreless, and the goalies continued making saves. It looked like it was going to be one of those nights where nobody scored, but with 53 seconds remaining in overtime, Maine finally broke through with a goal by Mitchell Fossier to win the game 1-0 and salvage the weekend. Swayman played out of his mind with 41 saves in the shutout, while Vomacka made 25 saves.
UConn’s power play unit struggled throughout the weekend by not converting on any of its five opportunities. That’s an area that coach Mike Cavanaugh has repeatedly said needs to improve and it potentially cost them a win on Saturday.
The Huskies played exceptional hockey this weekend, but at the end of the day, they went just 1-1, which dropped them to eighth place in the crowded Hockey East standings. Only five points separate the top nine teams in the conference with plenty of head-to-head matchups left, so every game is an important one for every team from this point forward.
UConn’s next test will come in two games against Boston University next weekend, a team that is five slots ahead of them despite having just three more points. One win or loss could be the difference in a home playoff series and not even making the playoffs. That’s how big these games are.