Entering Friday night’s game against UMass Lowell, the UConn men’s hockey team controlled their own destiny. Win or tie and they would lock in the No. 4 seed and host the first round of the Hockey East tournament. Lose and they get knocked down to the No. 5 or 6 seed and are forced to travel. By the time the final buzzer sounded in Massachusetts, it was No. 12 Lowell that came out on top 3-1, locking themselves into the No. 3 spot in the conference and sending UConn home wondering what was next.
Lowell’s first goal came six minutes into the first period on the power play. Reid Stefanson broke into the zone and found Kenny Huasinger cutting down the right side. The senior then found Andre Lee diving towards the net who redirected the pass past Tomas Vomacka to give his team the early lead.
Lowell would get two more power play opportunities in the period, but the Huskies defense made the adjustments and shut down the River Hawks. The first period came to an end with UConn facing just a 1-0 deficit while outshooting Lowell 13-9.
Penalties once again caught up to the Huskies in the second, and Lowell doubled their lead halfway through the period. This time it was Sam Knoblauch scoring his fourth of the season off a quick rebound right in front of the net. The Huskies had two power play chances of their own through the period, but actually got outshot 1-0 by Lowell during the four minutes of advantage.
UConn would finally cut the lead in half eight minutes into the third period, with Kale Howarth — the miracle man from their game against UMass Amherst — scoring once again off the rebound and putting the pressure back on the River Hawks.
Knowing the Huskies had a recent history of dramatic comebacks in the third, Lowell backed off a little bit to keep UConn out of their zone. But with two minutes left, head coach Mike Cavanaugh gave Vomacka the signal to come out and the River Hawks took advantage.
In what should have been a simple clearance to give Lowell the chance to change lines, the puck took a wild bounce off the wall in the neutral zone and rolled onto its side, finding its way into UConn’s goal and sealing the victory for the No. 12 River Hawks.
The Huskies outshot Lowell 32-26 in the game and 10-1 during 5-on-5 play, but special teams ended up being the difference in this one, resulting in the UConn loss and knocking them out of contention to host the first round of the conference tournament. The only question they had now was who they would be playing, Maine or Lowell again?
With a Boston University loss to Northeastern Saturday night, the Huskies finished No. 5 in the conference, meaning they are now headed to Orono to take on the Maine Bears, who they beat 2-1 in the season series this year.
The Bears have been stellar at home all season, boasting an 13-1-3 home record and at times looking unstoppable in front of their own crowd. But that one loss came at the hands of UConn just three weeks ago, and their rematch the next day went to overtime. So if there is a team that can upset Maine at home, it appears to be the Huskies.
The Quarter Finals will kick off Friday in what will be a best-of-three series between the teams, with puck drop set for 7 p.m. Friday, 6 p.m. Saturday and — should a third game be necessary — 6 p.m. Sunday.