The University of Connecticut men’s hockey team clinched their first win of the season in their opening game against the Sacred Heart Pioneers on Saturday, Oct. 2 at the XL Center.
This was also UConn’s first win over Sacred Heart since joining Hockey East.
“Well first of all, I thought it was a good win for our team. You know, that’s been a game, a tough game, for us to find a way to win over the past few years,” UConn head coach Mike Cavanaugh said at the end of the game.
Junior forward Vladislav Firstov scored the first goal of the game at just a minute and five seconds into the first period to set the tone for the rest of the game.
Firstov proved to be clutch throughout the matchup, netting another goal later in the game during the second period.
His initial score was a clean shot from the top of the circle, but the second was the most complex goal in the whole game. The second time around, Firstov scored from behind Sacred Heart’s net and strategically ricocheted the puck off of Pioneer goalkeeper Josh Benson’s back to score.
Before Firstov’s second goal, however, he crafted a penalty which resulted in a power play. This gave sophomore forward Hudson Schandor the opportunity to set up a goal for fellow sophomore forward Ryan Tverberg to send the pass into the net.
“I thought he was electric when the puck was on his stick…and I thought he competed hard all night long,” Cavanaugh said of Firstov’s performance, as he scored and set up opportunities for goals forother teammates.
Going into the third period, the game was tied 3-3 after Firstov’s pair and Tverberg’s shot.
Senior forward Jachym Konelik pushed the Huskies’ momentum with a goal about six minutes into the third period off of an assist from junior defenseman Harrison Rees. The rest of the game was a breeze for UConn’s offensive and defensive lines, as they would score two more before the final buzzer.
“We’re focusing on covering three sides of the net during practice and I think I was in a good spot. That was a good job by Harrison Rees down the net and I was just fortunate enough to get a lucky bounce,” Konelik said in a postgame interview on his goal.
The next goal was from graduate student forward Kevin O’Neil, a transfer playing for his first time as a Husky. He scored in the final minute of the game when the Pioneers pulled their goalie and left an empty net for O’Neil to put the puck into.
As predicted in this season’s preview, the Bulldog-turned-Husky had an immediate impact on UConn’s offense. After breaking through Sacred Heart and skating down the ice, he was able to shoot the puck past Sacred Heart’s sleepy defense to increase the lead to 5-3 before heading into the last 60 seconds of gameplay.
In an encore for the Huskies, senior forward Marc Gatcomb was good for one more goal, scoring on the still-open net with less than 20 seconds left after stealing a pass from two Sacred Heart players.
“We switched a couple things around in the third period because I just didn’t think we were getting enough offense from some guys; and that’s going to be common all season long,” Cavanaugh said of the forwards at the end of the second period going into the third.
Overall, UConn won faceoffs 37-27 over Sacred Heart and was perfect on penalty kills, never allowing a Sacred Heart goal when the Pioneers had an extra guy on the ice.
UConn’s offense had a strong start to the season with immense support from the defense.
Graduate goalkeeper Darion Hanson was in-goal for the Huskies on Saturday. Similar to O’Neil, Hanson is one of the latest and greatest transfers to UConn who made his Connecticut hockey debut.
“I think it’s great that we have Darion right now, you know, he stepped up. I think there was a lot of pressure on him but he handled it really well. I believe he’s going to be really good for us going into the season,” Konelik said of his goaltender’s first UConn game.
Hanson allowed only three Sacred Heart goals, stopping 28 of the 31 shots at him. The first goal came head-on from Sacred Heart’s Logan Britt just a few minutes after UConn’s Firstov scored. Britt tied the game here, and Hanson felt immediate remorse.
“I thought he was pretty good, I’m sure he’d like to have that first goal back. But to his credit, he came right back to our bench and said, ‘Hey guys, that’s on me,’ and we were saying, ‘Hey, don’t worry about that. We shouldn’t have left that guy open.’ I love the way he responded, he didn’t shrink after that goal,” said Cavanaugh after the game.
Going into the season, the Huskies were sixth in the Preseason Coaches’ Poll. This is the highest the team has ever ranked ahead of a season.
The Huskies take the ice again on Friday, Oct. 8, at the XL Center against Boston University at 7:05 p.m. in the first Big East matchup of the season. Following Friday night, they’ll travel to Boston on Saturday to play the Terriers.