The University of New Hampshire Wildcats may have clawed the Huskies on Friday night at the XL Center 3-1, but the dogs came back for redemption on Saturday afternoon, winning 3-2 in overtime.
After the Friday night loss, Huskies head coach Mike Cavanaugh pointed at the team’s offense.
“We’re in a funk offensively,” Cavanaugh said. “It’s three games in a row with one goal. You’re not going to win a lot of hockey games when you’re just scoring one goal. So, we’ve got to get more pucks and bodies to the net. When you’re not scoring goals, you’ve got to get the puck there and fight for that ice.”
Friday night opened with an intense but scoreless first period. The second saw much of the same, until there were about three minutes left. UConn forward Carter Turnbull was able to light the lamp for the first time in the game after finding rookie defenseman Jake Veilleux’s rebound, which Veilleux made use of after fellow defenseman John Spetz made the initial shot.
Veilleux would see game action the following day as well. The coach remained impressed with the freshman’s participation, but looks forward to seeing more. Just because this is his first year on the team, Cavanaugh isn’t lowering his expectations.
“Everybody that we bring into the program is expected to contribute; and that’s no different for Jake. Even though he’s now played in just three games … Next game if it’s [forward] John Wojciechowski, who hasn’t played a lot or if it’s [defenseman] Aidan Metcalfe, who hasn’t played yet, they’re going to be expected to contribute,” Cavanaugh said. “I mean, you just don’t wear a jersey and say, ‘hey I’m on the team.’ We have guys in that locker room and when their number’s called, they’re expected to play.”
After Trumbull’s goal off Veilleux’s rebound Friday night, however, UNH tied the game just two minutes later with about 40 seconds before the end of the period. The Wildcats found themselves on a power play, and UNH defenseman Colton Huard sent the puck over the line.
Almost nine minutes into the third period, UNH took the lead after forward Chase Stevenson made it a 2-1 game after picking up the rebound from another Wildcat.
According to Cavanaugh, “We’re playing a little indecisive at times…I think that’d be a good word for our club right now, I think we’re a little indecisive. We’re in games, but we’re not playing with enough conviction to put our opponent on their heels, and in turn we’re the ones being put on our heels.”
Even with a power play towards the end of the period, where UConn also pulled goaltender Darion Hanson to have another extra skater, the Huskies couldn’t keep the Wildcats at bay. Specifically, UConn struggled with UNH’s Chase Stevenson, as he found the empty net with ease to put up a 3-1 win over the Huskies.
Still, Cavanaugh was hopeful for their return to the ice the following day. “We’ll just tee it up tomorrow right away right at three. We don’t have to sit around and think about it; we’ll just get right back after it tomorrow,” he said.
There wasn’t any sitting around for the Huskies on Saturday.
“We kept coming and probably wore them down a little bit throughout the game, but we didn’t change the way we played … We stayed with the same game plan … we got a lot of volume to the net,” Cavanaugh said after Saturday’s win.
The first period was eerily similar to Friday’s, but it was the Wildcats that ended up on the board first at 17:05 with UNH forward Jackson Pierson’s goal. The lead wouldn’t hold on, as UConn forward Marc Gatcomb was quick to tie it up just two minutes into the second period.
The Huskies scored again in the middle period a little over 10 minutes later after finishing a power play into a zone rush. Gatcomb had the shot again, but it was rookie forward Sasha Teleguine who handled the rebound and was able to score his first career goal to give UConn the lead.
UConn held onto the lead throughout the third until UNH forward Filip Engarås tied the game at 2-2 with less than six minutes left in regulation. For the last minute, UNH was going on a breakaway and in position to score, until UConn forward Vladislav Firstov took on a defensive role to shut it down.
“It was a gutsy effort to kill that penalty,” Cavanaugh said. “Jachym [Kondelik] made a point to bring it up in the locker room after the game and single out Vlad. We certainly all recognize how important of a play that was.”
Closing out regulation with a tough act to follow, UConn came out for the extra minutes with defenseman Harrison Rees and then had Jonny Evans and Kevin O’Neil as forwards, which worked in the Huskies’ favor.
“It was a great play … Kevin was able to sift the puck through and Jonny finished it, which was great,” Cavanaugh said after the 3-2 overtime win.
UConn earned two points on the night, but the coach said, “I thought we played well enough to earn three points tonight.”
Regardless, UConn must improve in scoring and isn’t letting the win overshadow the trouble the Huskies have had with the number of goals they’ve been able to score.
“Tonight, I thought was more of a dominant effort [but] we still only scored two goals in regulation … They always have this stat ‘expected goals,’ I bet our expected goals are somewhere around four or five,” Cavanaugh explained after UConn’s single goal on Friday and three goals on Saturday.
UConn still has more games to play against UNH this season, but the teams won’t meet again until Feb. 5. According to Cavanaugh, “We put ourselves in a position now when we’ll go up to New Hampshire in a couple of weeks; with that game, we could win the season series with them, so it’ll be a really important game for us.”
Until then, the Huskies will stay in Connecticut to prepare for their matchup against Merrimack College on Jan. 25 for another home game.