The UConn men’s hockey team nearly stole two wins from No. 8 UMass this weekend, after coming back in the last two minutes Friday and nearly surging back Saturday. While they didn’t sweep, they did clinch a playoff spot in tantalizing fashion Friday.
“I think we got what we deserved, hats off to UConn, they’re playing well,” UMass head coach Greg Carvel said Friday. “They did a good job tonight, I thought they were the better team. We found a way to get ahead late in the game and we completely fell apart in our structure defensively, kind of inexcusable. It would have been stealing a game tonight, but it’s a tough way to lose late in the game.”
Friday’s game was a thriller from start to finish. UConn (15-14-4, 12-9-2 Hockey East) hosted UMass (20-11-2, 13-8-2 Hockey East) at the XL Center in Hartford in front of a crowd of nearly 6,700 fans. They took a 3-2 win after a game-winner from defenseman Kale Howarth with eight seconds to go in the third period.
Saturday was a much more evenly matched offensive game, as the teams traded goals all night. UConn just couldn’t secure the last score needed to tie it in the third period, falling 4-3 in Amherst.
The Huskies dominated for much of the game Friday, attempting 70 shots on the night – and throwing 38 of them on target. They also closed down gaps well and limited turnovers.
“Overall, it was pretty solid for three periods,” Cavanaugh said Friday post-game. “We were double digits in shots every period and I thought we defended pretty well too. That’s a really good hockey team. It’s going to be even tougher tomorrow up there. They’re a great team at home. As far as this game’s concerned, with the exception of losing the special team’s game, I was really happy with the effort and the result.”
We clinched a playoff spot last night and blew the roof off XL Center! pic.twitter.com/PWTqh134fF
— UConn Men's Hockey (@UConnMHOC) February 29, 2020
They got out to a lead mid-way through the second period as Carter Berger slotted away the game’s first goal on an absolute strike from the red circle in open space. It was the freshman’s second goal in a UConn uniform.
UConn then gave up two goals to the NCAA’s leading goal-scorer, John Leonard, who now has 27 goals on the year, which is four more than second-place Griffin Loughran of Northern Michigan.
“I’m proud of the effort that these guys brought,” captain Wyatt Newpower said Friday. “When we went down that goal – we were there last weekend against BU, we went down a goal after having a lead – so it’s not our first time, which is huge. We just stuck together, bared down, took a couple deep breaths and said ‘Alright, let’s go get it, we’re playing well, it’s going to come let’s just keep doing things right’.”
With just 1:31 seconds to go in the third period, Marc Gatcomb tied it up on a shot in front of net and then Howarth scored the stunner with just eight seconds to go. The crowd lost their minds and the team swarmed goaltender Tomas Vomacka after the clincher.
Then UConn hopped on the bus and headed out to Amherst for game two of the weekend. UMass, out for revenge, got out to a 1-0 lead three minutes in on a Marc Del Gaizo goal. UConn was able to tie it up late in the first with a goal from Jonny Evans, his ninth on the season.
Halfway through the second period, UMass capitalized on a power play opportunity to take the lead once again, as Del Gaizo scored his second of the day.
Down 2-1, freshman Jake Flynn hit a rocket into the corner in the third period to tie it up again. Just minutes later, however, UMass grabbed two goals within four minutes to take a 4-2.
Carter Turnbull, who is tied for the team lead in goals with Alexander Payusov at 12, scored just 13 seconds after Leonard’s goal. Now down 4-3 with a few minutes to go, UConn couldn’t get it done and took a loss.
They now sit in fourth place in Hockey East with 26 points, one point under UMass Lowell and two points under UMass – BC has 32 points at the top and is a clear favorite for the conference this season.
“It’s something that us as seniors have talked about, we’ve been on both ends of the spectrum, as I said earlier in the week,” Newpower said Friday on playing meaningful games this late in the season. “We’ve had bad years and we’ve had successful years, so we’ve just been preaching that we know we can get there, it’s just a matter of whether we want to work. This team has really come together at the right time of the year and it’s all the more motivation to just go out there and lay everything out on the line every night.”
There is just one regular season game to go this year for the Huskies, as they will head to UMass Lowell Friday to close out their campaign.