The University of Connecticut men’s hockey team opened a home-and-home series against University of Massachusetts-Lowell on Saturday and returned to Connecticut with a loss after the Riverhawks won 3-0.
“I thought we played a pretty solid road game…A turnover in the third period cost us; they made a nice play on that goal. We still continued to play pretty well and we just didn’t find the back of the net,” head coach Mike Cavanaugh said after Saturday night’s game.
The goal that Cavanaugh is referring to is the first counted goal of the game, which didn’t come until almost five minutes into the third period when Andre Lee, a junior forward, scored for UMass Lowell off of a rebound from fellow Riverhawk junior forward Carl Berglund.
Prior to this, UConn would have had the lead when senior forward Jonny Evans shot, but the goal was recalled for a high stick. If that goal was good, the score would have been tied at 1-1.
“Sometimes you need a little puck luck, and other times you’ve got to create your own puck luck, too,” said Cavanaugh on UConn’s puck handling Saturday night.
As it turns out, the Huskies ended up creating that “puck luck” for the Riverhawks. When Lee scored, it was off of a UConn turnover.
Lee couldn’t be stopped, not even by UConn’s graduate goaltender Darion Hanson, who made 21 saves out of the 24 he faced. The Huskies outshot the Riverhawks 34-24, but it was UMass Lowell’s senior goaltender Owen Savory who had the shutout and a season high 34 saves. Savory now leads the Hockey East conference and the nation in save percentage at .953 and goals against average, with 1.13.
“Good teams find a way to get one past the goalie. It’s very easy to just say ‘Oh, their goaltender was fantastic and he stole the game for them.’ That’s a good hockey team. They’re good in a lot of areas, but we’ve got to find a way to be greasier around the net,” Cavanaugh said about both goalies and UMass Lowell’s victory.
Lee continued shooting throughout the last period, scoring again at 16:17 to put the Riverhawks’ lead at 2-0 as the Huskies remained scoreless.
Despite outshooting UMass Lowell and dominating the puck, UConn was unable to score, even with an extra skater after pulling Hanson in the last few minutes of the game.
“We’re playing pretty good hockey, we’re just not finding a way to close out games and win games and that’s something that as a staff and as a team we’ve got to find a way to do that,” Coach Cavanaugh said on UConn’s overall control of games, but not winning them.
With less than two minutes left, UMass Lowell senior forward Reid Stefanson shot from across the ice to seal the win at 3-0 over UConn.
Despite the shutout loss, Coach Cavanaugh was proud of the team and knew what to improve on heading back into the XL Center.
“I don’t think we have to change our game; I think we have to get tougher in front of their net,” Coach Cavanaugh said ahead of Sunday’s game. “I know it sounds cliché, I just think we have to play the same game and have a little more nastiness in front of their net.”
Tough is an understatement for how UConn played in Hartford on Sunday.
“That was a gutsy win for our team,” Coach Cavanaugh said after the win. “I don’t know if there’s a team in the league in the last 10 years that has been as consistent as Lowell…it’s always a well-fought, tough game against them and it’s a good win for us.”
Less than 24 hours prior, it was UMass Lowell’s grit that got UConn down and stopped, quite literally, every shot the Huskies made in their efforts for a win.
“Last night, I didn’t think we made plays to win the game. Tonight, we did—and there was a whole myriad of them,” Coach Cavanaugh on comparing the weekend games.
It was UConn who struck first again tonight, and this time the goal was good.
After a boring first period with little action from either team, senior defenseman Ryan Wheeler came out into the second period ready to go and scored his second goal of the season in just under thirty seconds.
From there the Huskies kept control of the puck as they did on Saturday but this time, they were able to make something of it and send it past Savory not once, but twice.
Coach Cavanaugh talked about puck luck after the game on Saturday, and at that point, the Huskies didn’t have it and they weren’t creating it for themselves either. On Sunday, things changed.
About eight minutes later, junior and fellow defenseman Jake Flynn won the game for UConn by scoring his first goal of the season by a mixture of having puck luck and creating it.
“You get puck luck when you go to the front of the net and the goalie’s screened and he doesn’t know where the puck is and you need that. You create your own puck luck, too. On that goal, there was a lot of that,” Coach Cavanaugh on Jake Flynn’s goal.
What caused the turnaround?
“If your best players are committed to do all the little things, it makes it a lot easier to coach,” Coach Cavanaugh said, while joking about his “raspy” voice from coaching this weekend.
These little things included keeping Lee to only one goal instead of two. Just as the game prior, Lee was skating and shooting for the Riverhawks. This time, he scored with just over three minutes to go in the second period, his and UMass Lowell’s only goal at the XL Center.
The third period remained just as uneventful as the first, and those little things amounted to a big win, and an end for UMass Lowell’s nine-game streak without losing a game. The only game the Riverhawks lost this season was their season opener against Arizona State University, winning seven of their next nine and tying two of them.
This came without forwards Jonny Evans and Vladislav Firstov, a junior, who Coach Cavanaugh said had “nagging injuries” and decided not to play them on Sunday.
“It’s just too hard of a game to play in if you’re not 100%,” said Coach Cavanaugh.
Nonetheless, it was still a strong team effort to win and knowing UMass Lowell’s ranking of 15 heading into the weekend, the Huskies expected themselves to rise to the challenge.
“This is a team that has high expectations. We expect to play well, but we also expect to make plays to win games. We hadn’t done that in the previous three games, and tonight we did.”
The Huskies will stay in Connecticut to play the Colgate Raiders on Saturday, Nov. 27 at the XL Center. The puck drops at 4:05 p.m. in their first matchup in almost four years.