It has been quite the season for the UConn women’s hockey team, winning 23 games and putting itself in position to win the Hockey East tournament for the first time in program history. But, the Vermont Catamounts would have something to say about that, hosting the Huskies in Burlington on Wednesday night in a matchup between the No. 3 and No. 2 teams in the conference. UConn won the season series 2-1, including a split of a weekend series on Jan. 7 and 8 in Burlington. With a win, the Huskies would clinch their spot in the Hockey East final—the first time since 2020, where they fell to now four-time defending champion Northeastern.
Vermont wasted no time looking to grab the quick advantage against freshman goalkeeper Megan Warrener, putting on immediate offensive pressure that saw the host Catamounts hitting the post several times. The early Vermont aggressiveness was highlighted by shots from Kristina Shanahan, Ellice Murphy and Antonia Matzka, which were all snuffed out by Warrener. UConn was not stagnant while on offense, with Morgan Wabick and Danielle Fox having shots on goal in the opening minute, but both shots were saved by Vermont goalkeeper Jessie McPherson.
This aggressiveness and pressure by Vermont boiled over, as Shanahan was called for a cross-checking call halfway through the period. Throughout the season, the Catamounts had only allowed ten goals on the power play, and successfully weathered several UConn shots from Summer-Rae Dobson, Natalie Snodgrass and Claire Peterson. The strong Vermont defense, combined with strong goalkeeper work from McPherson, kept the score level in this intense, high-stakes conference semi-final.
Even after the power-play was neutralized, the Huskies refused to dial back the pressure with multiple players, including Jada Habsich, Amy Landry and Coryn Tamala, all getting involved in the quest to get on the board first. This aggressiveness appeared to work against UConn’s best interest, as a Snodgrass miss allowed for a Vermont 2-on-1, but Warrener responded with two incredible saves, turning away Theresa Schafzhal and Shanahan to keep the game scoreless in the final minutes of the first period. The duels between Shanahan and Warrener would not stop there, with the UConn goalkeeper again coming out on top with another outstanding save to keep Vermont from snagging the first goal.
Created by a Dobson penalty, Vermont went on the power play, but Warrener made saves on two Catamount shots on goal, as the Huskies successfully neutralized the extra attacker. This momentum proved to be huge for UConn, as immediately following the end of the power play, the Huskies struck first, as Peterson scored her fourth goal of the season, and only fifth of her career, rebounding a shot from Danielle Fox and beating McPherson after a scramble in front of the net. Despite strong performances from both goalkeepers, with McPherson and Warrener notching 14 and 11 saves in the period respectively, it was the Huskies who took a 1-0 lead into the second period in Burlington.
The freshman from Ontario continued to be tested in goal for UConn, turning away early second-period chances from the Catamounts and saving shots on goal from Evelyne Blais-Savoie, Maude Poulin-Labelle and Murphy, with Vermont desperately trying to even the score. Dobson and the Huskies had an excellent chance to pad their lead, but McPherson asserted her strength in goal, making a pad save to prevent her Catamounts from having to battle back from a multi-goal deficit. UConn continued to inch closer to its second goal, but Amy Landry hit the post, failing to convert the chance before the halfway point of the second. While McPherson continued to make saves as the last line of defense, the blocked shots kept UConn at bay for the time being, with Alex Anne-Boyer and Ainsley Svetek having their opportunities blocked by the Vermont defense.
Vermont’s defensive pressure appeared to be too aggressive as Hailey Burns was whistled for a roughing penalty that created a power-play chance for UConn. This advantage ended differently for the Huskies, as the Wabick connection helped convert their second goal of the game, with Morgan scoring her 12th goal of the season, sending home Taylor’s 21st assist less than a minute into the power play. Despite the deficit, McPherson stepped up for Vermont, saving shots from Wabick and Habisch to keep the Huskies lead at 2. The Catamounts refused to quit the aggression, hitting the post again and forcing Warrener to make two more saves in the final minute of the second period. A Chloe Gonsalves tripping penalty with less than 30 seconds in the period opened the door for a tough shot on net from Vermont’s Maude Poulin-Labelle, but the Megan Warrener show continued to roll on, sending this semi-final to the third period with UConn still possessing a 2-0 lead.
The Huskies successfully killed the power play after it carried over into the third, as Warrener kept the Catamounts off the scoreboard, saving shots from Poulin-Labelle and Alyssa Holmes. Poulin-Labelle registered another shot moments later, but the UConn defense led by Warrener turned it away. The Huskies continued to disrupt the passing lanes and kept Vermont off the scoreboard, with Anne-Boyer blocking two Catamount shots in a row. Sini Karjalainen and Schafzahl had their chances for Vermont’s first strike, but Warrener continued to shine and keep the clean sheet intact as time dwindled in the last minutes of the game.
While Vermont desperately tried to cut the lead in half, it was UConn who put the icing on the cake, as Jada Habisch scored with just under four minutes remaining in her thirteenth goal of the season, beating McPherson off a Viki Harkness assist. Vermont broke through with seconds remaining in the game, spoiling the shutout by Warrener courtesy of Ellice Murphy. However, this was a mere footnote, as UConn emerged victorious, defeating Vermont 3-1. The UConn goalie saved 30 of 31 Catamount shots—her second consecutive performance only allowing one goal.
The Huskies will return to the Hockey East Final, where they will face either Maine or Northeastern, the latter of whom has won the last four conference titles and recently defeated the Huskies in the regular season finale.