Men’s Hockey: The Ice Bus rolls to the Hockey East Championship

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In another Huskies battle, the UConn Huskies got the final bark on Friday, beating Northeastern 4-1 in the Hockey East semifinals, advancing to the championship on Saturday. It was another historic day for these Huskies as they won the Hockey East semifinal game for the first time in UConn history, starting a streak of two post-season wins. Overall, UConn’s record is 20-15-0, with Friday marking UConn’s first time achieving 20 wins while in the Hockey East conference. 

“We came in with the intention of winning the tournament, just like all four teams that come here do, and I was really happy with the way we competed today for 60 minutes,” UConn head coach Mike Cavanaugh said after his team punched its ticket to the Hockey East Championships. “We’ve openly talked about all our goals this year, we don’t hide from them, so I wasn’t shocked at all tonight that we showed up and we weren’t starstruck in this building.”

The first period started out with intense but clean hockey. The first penalties came about halfway through for both teams but even without a significant amount of physicality from the UConn Huskies, they were dominating. Northeastern head coach Jerry Keefe noted after the game that he “thought that [UConn] was more physical,” giving his Huskies a harder time. 

The Ice Bus was officially rolling a few minutes later with a goal shoved in by forward Vladislav Firstov right after a power play. Nick Capone, forward, was also towards the front of the net, keeping the puck in front of Northeastern goaltender Devon Levi after a pass from forward Chase Bradley before Firstov finally sent it back. 

As huge as this was for the Huskies from Connecticut, the excitement was short-lived. After forward and captain Carter Turnbull was sent to the penalty box for slashing, Northeastern had a power play and within the last few seconds of the extra skater advantage, the Huskies from Boston tied the game. At a little under six minutes left before the first intermission, Northeastern forward Aidan McDonough put his Huskies on the board, coming off an assist from defenseman Jordan Harris and forward Gunnarwolfe Fontaine. 

Although the first period finished with UConn having a lead on shots at 12-6, Northeastern made steady pace to try and keep up. However, the Bostonians were limited due to UConn’s physicality for yet another 20 minutes. Though both teams were mostly even on penalties, neither were able to score on their power plays. However, it was UConn that scored again, right when they had a fifth skater back on the ice. 

Cavanaugh has emphasized before that the Ice Bus plays its best hockey five-on-five, and this was the case on Friday as defenseman Roman Kinal gave UConn the lead from another assist by Bradley, as well as an assist from defenseman Harrison Rees.

Going into the final period of regulation, the UConn Huskies couldn’t be looking better as they were up 2-1 on the scoreboard and 28-17 on shots. 

The only improvement would have been to have an extra goal, which UConn forward Ryan Tverberg quickly delivered early in the third period. The Ice Bus racked up several shots within the first five minutes, but it was Tverberg’s that successfully hit the net. At 4:32, the sophomore forward was what his coach would call “too cute with it,” and handled the puck for a few extra seconds before sneaking it around Levi with an incredible finish to increase Connecticut’s lead to 3-1.  

The rest of the period saw Northeastern struggling to at least force an overtime period, if not come out on top. As the clock ticked down, time became of the essence and with about four minutes left in the period, it became very physical for both teams, but Levi, who stopped 33 shots, wasn’t to be a part of the game’s chippy end. 

“That’s Husky hockey right there: to see us up 3-1 at the TD Garden with two minutes left, playing our game,” UConn goaltender Darion Hanson said. The goaltender made 24 saves on Friday, only allowing one goal in the first period.

Northeastern pulled Levi for an extra skater with about three minutes left, leaving both the offense and defense to struggle. However, this helped UConn’s offense tremendously. 

UConn forward and alternate captain Marc Gatcomb was right in the action, finding the puck on its own and taking it down the ice to put an exclamation point on UConn’s 4-1 win. 

“We weren’t doing a whole lot on our power play,” Keefe said after the game. “I thought if we could get the extra guy out there, maybe give us some life right there but obviously it didn’t work out.”

This was exemplified later with a UConn penalty for tripping, giving Northeastern a six-on-four advantage on a power play. The Boston Huskies sent a shot past Hanson’s helmet to close UConn’s eventual margin of victory in the last five seconds of the game but the goal was overturned. Nonetheless, the Ice Bus called game. 

The Ice Bus thanked its passengers following the game, crediting the fans for making the trip to Boston and cheering for the UConn Huskies.

“To see all the UConn support surprised me, it really did,” Hanson said. “Coming out in warmups and seeing that whole UConn section filled up, that motivates us so we’re going to need it tomorrow.”

However, the head coach had his own opinion.

“Darion said that he was surprised; I wasn’t,” Cavanaugh said. “I’ve seen UConn, for many years, travel far and wide to support their teams and I was not shocked at all when I looked across and I saw the support tonight. As Darion said, we’re going to be here tomorrow and there’s no doubt in my mind that they’re all staying tonight and they’ll be here.”

Fans celebrated after the win, as did the team, but this wasn’t the same as last weekend, when UConn beat Boston University to get to TD Garden. Cavanaugh wasn’t as wild as the players were after beating Northeastern.

“We always have the 24-hour rule. I told them tonight, it’s a 24-minute rule,” Cavanaugh said. “This was great, but we’ve got to move on; we have one more tomorrow.”

The one thing the coach and players can agree on is that they hope to see all UConn fans, and more, back on Saturday at 7 p.m. as UConn faces the University of Massachusetts Minutemen for the Hockey East championship title. The game will be broadcasted live on NESN. 

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