As head coach Mike Cavanaugh said, “I know the score was close, but I think UMass was the better team tonight.”
Cavanaugh spoke on Friday night, after the Minutemen beat UConn 2-1 at the XL Center. However, the Huskies quickly learned how to overcome the defending national champions, for a 4-2 upset Saturday night in Amherst, Massachusetts.
The opener of the home-and-home series was anyone’s game up until the third period, although UMass maintained the lead on shots. The Minutemen managed 35 shots, while holding UConn to just 20. In retrospect, this was indicative of their slight edge throughout the first and second periods.
“We could’ve gotten more pucks to the net,” Cavanaugh said. “We can definitely get more pucks to the net and drive to the net instead of trying to wait for that perfect shot,” Cavanaugh said.
At just under eight minutes into the final period, the Minutemen were first to score. UMass defenseman Ryan Ufko utilized a power play, the fourth that the Minutemen executed that night. About 10 minutes later, UMass extended its lead to 2-0 with forward Josh Lopina tipping in a rebounded puck.
With less than two minutes left in regulation, UConn got a power play chance and decided to pull goaltender Darion Hanson for a 6-on-4 opportunity with an extra skater. This proved to be the way to go, as the Huskies were finally able to put one on the board, albeit with only a minute left in the final period. UConn forward Carter Turnbull found the puck amidst a collection of sticks battling in front of the UMass net.
Despite UConn’s strong efforts to tie the game and force overtime, UMass had resilient defense on the ice to keep the game 2-1 game in its favor. It was a hard fight until the end, but UMass beat UConn to the puck too many times, until there wasn’t any time on the clock for UConn to make a comeback.
“I thought we were just late on our forecheck all night long,” Cavanaugh said. “I’d like to see us play with a little more pace and be more in an attack mode.”
Being as close as they were to beating a team ranked above them — both nationally and within the conference — the Huskies had no choice but to attack on Saturday night. The odds were even more against UConn now that they were traveling to Amherst.
“Our team is a pretty good road-win team,” Cavanaugh said. “Sometimes, playing in another building galvanizes us, and we know that we have to come together to be successful.”
It was truly a team effort to secure the win on Saturday night, with forward Ryan Tverberg leading the way. While UMass couldn’t convert on its own power play, UConn was able to do so after a 5-on-3 chance. Tverberg initially passed to forward and captain Jachym Kondelik, who also had a huge night for himself, and then Kondelik sent it to defenseman John Spetz who saw the open net and took advantage of it with three minutes to go in the first.
Following the break, UMass quickly made a statement as to not be outplayed. At 12 seconds into the second period, UMass forward Bobby Trivigno tied the game. Less than a minute later, UMass forward Josh Lopina scored for the second night in a row to give the Minutemen the lead.
On another power play, UConn’s Tverberg got his own goal after finishing off Spetz’ original shot at about the eight and a half minute-mark to tie the game. Still, there was more hockey to play.
Tverberg had more action in him and assisted forward Hudson Schandor on a goal right before the clock hit seven minutes. This gave the Huskies a 3-2 lead and kept momentum going to hold onto it for the next 13 minutes.
Continuing to fight for a split on the weekend, Tverberg was there for yet another assist. Kondelik first sent the puck to Tverberg, who battled to keep it and shift it to forward Marc Gatcomb to emphasize UConn’s win and to increase the margin of victory.
“Obviously, we’re pretty pleased with that win,” It wasn’t pretty at times, but I do think that we regrouped,” Cavanaugh said after UConn came out on top. “We started to find our game a little bit at the end of the second period.”
The assists during this game were just as important as the goals, as Tverberg had an assist on every score — a career high — and Kondelik earned his 100th career point on his assists.
“It’s just his consistency,” the coach said of Kondelik. “He’s had 20 points every year, starting when he was a freshman, so it just shows you that he’s just been a solid, consistent player here for a long time, and I’m really happy for him.”
Cavanaugh also expressed an appreciation for Darion Hanson and his goaltending efforts all weekend. He said that Hanson was “outstanding” after Friday night’s loss, where he made 33 saves and allowed just two goals. Hanson’s statistics were similar on Saturday, as Hanson made 35 saves with only two going past him again.
“He was just average,” Cavanaugh tried to say with a straight face before laughing at his own joke. “He just competes so hard. He’s not only a good goaltender; he just competes so hard and he was fantastic. He has been all year long.”
The Huskies have another home-and-home series next weekend with the Huskies of Northeastern University. UConn will travel to Boston for the first game at 7 p.m. Friday and then return to the XL Center to host Northeastern at 3:05 p.m. Saturday.