Men’s Hockey Recap: Huskies split series with Providence, win UNH series

02/04/2022 MHOC vs Providence by Kevin Lindstrom UConn defeats Providence College 2-1 in the XL Center during a winter storm on Friday night, Feb. 4, 2022. The match was very heated with both teams playing with a high level of physicality.

The UConn men’s hockey team had two key Big East games this weekend and rose to the challenge on both Friday and Saturday night to earn a total of six points heading into this week.  

On Friday night, the Huskies welcomed the Providence Friars to the XL Center, although it was more with open fists than open arms. The game was increasingly physical as the game went on, which served in UConn’s favor, shown by the final buzzer sounding off at a 2-1 box score.  

“We want to be physical every night, but tonight we were extra physical,” head coach Mike Cavanaugh said. 

Cavanaugh was proud of what he called another “gutsy” win and the way the team worked together to finish it off.  

“I was certainly very pleased with tonight’s win. I said to the kids, we’re in the same position we were in last week — going into a third period with a tie game — and tonight we found a way to make a play to win the game,” Cavanaugh said.  

The first period started out slow and seemingly unsuccessful for either team, as the score remained 0-0. Despite being able to generate two power plays, the Huskies failed to capitalize on both of them for an early lead.  

“It was a very disjointed special teams night … There weren’t many two-minute power plays, that’s for sure,” Cavanaugh said. 

However, it was a power play that finished out the first period and carried over to the second that got Providence on the board and in the lead at only 47 seconds in. Providence defenseman Max Crozier found the puck from a couple of other Friars passing and hit a one-timer.  

“The one goal they scored was a one-timer, they kind of caught us on a change, but other than that we did a good job of taking away second-chance opportunities and protecting the house in front of Darion,” Cavanaugh said.  

Not to be outplayed at home, the Huskies came back about a minute later to tie it up and change momentum. Cavanaugh emphasized that, “It was a big goal for us, too, because it was a bounce-back goal only about a minute after they had scored.” 

Credits went to defenseman John Spetz on the quick net action, supported by forward Vladilav Firstov.  

“I thought John Spetz might’ve had his best game of the year tonight,” Cavanaugh said. “Not only scoring the goal, but he was really strong at both ends and he got pucks down to the net. In our defensive zone, I thought he did an excellent job.” 

Spetz was proud of not only how he played, but the team’s efforts as a whole to set up the scoring opportunity for him.  

“It happened quick,” Spetz admitted. “The puck came up, went through Vladi’s legs and kind of just went on my stick and I was like thinking in my head, like, get to the middle, create a little time. I just kind of sifted it on net and I don’t know who was screening but it was a great screen and it just floated in; it was nice.” 

About 10 seconds past 14 minutes, it looked like the Huskies called game. Rookie forward Chase Bradley approached the Friars’ net, aiming to score. Providence goaltender Jaxson Stauber stopped Bradley’s stop, but forward Jachym Kondelik found it and sent it past Stauber. However, the goal was overturned after Providence challenged it under the basis that Bradley interfered with Stauber.  

Not unlike previous games, as Cavanaugh noted, the third period had both teams playing for a tiebreaker. With less than five minutes in regulation, Spetz sent the puck up to forward Artem Schlaine, who then met fellow forward Ryan Tverberg to win the game. It was Tverberg who had a stick in setting up Spetz’s goal, and Spetz made sure the favor circled the ice.   

Ahead of this game, Providence was nationally ranked at 17, and No. 4 in Hockey East. UConn is unranked nationally but No. 6 in Hockey East, therefore upsetting the Friars.  

UConn’s other opponent of the weekend, the University of New Hampshire, is ranked below UConn at No. 9, so the win wasn’t an upset over the Wildcats. However, it was probably still upsetting to lose 6-1 with the Huskies on the positive side of the score. 

“It was not a 6-1 game … I didn’t think we were very sharp in the first. I thought we played a pretty good second period, but in the third period I thought we played back on our heels and New Hampshire was taking it to us,” Cavanaugh admitted after the huge win. “Our goaltender was outstanding, he made some great saves in the first period and some really good ones in the third period, and we were just opportunistic tonight.” 

The Huskies jumped to dominate early in the game, with Hudson Schandor kicking off the scoring run at just under five minutes into the game. Right before the end of the period, with a minute left, UNH forward Tyler Ward briefly tied the game for the Wildcats. 

Ward’s goal would be the only one New Hampshire scored all night.  

The second period saw three goals from three different Huskies: Jachym Kondelik, Carter Turnbull and Vladislav Firstov; in that order.  

Going into the third period 4-1, the Huskies stayed hot and kept up strong defensive efforts, led by UConn goaltender Darion Hanson. He faced more shots on Saturday than Cavanaugh would have liked, but persevered through them for the win.  

“We gave up 21 shots last night and we gave up 15 in the first period, which is pretty uncharacteristic of us,” Cavanaugh expressed after Saturday’s win.  

The Huskies upped their shots to finish the final 20 minutes by enough for UNH to pull their goaltender, Mike Robinson, with just under four minutes to go and opt for an extra skater. This served as an opportunity for Artem Shlaine to score on the empty net for what was shaping to be at least a 5-1 victory.  

In the final three minutes, Ryan Tverberg increased this lead by another goal with his empty-netter.  

The Huskies knew the importance of both the Providence and UNH games, and played like a playoff-caliber team. With eight games left in the regular season, however, Cavanaugh isn’t letting the team get ahead of themselves.  

“We’re not focused on playoffs right now; we’re still focused on finishing really strong in the regular season,” the coach said.  

This continues with a game at Merrimack College on Tuesday, Feb. 8 that starts at 7 p.m. 

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