There were two plays that defined the opening weekend of the 2022-23 campaign for the UConn women’s hockey team. Both of those plays proved to be the difference in the game for the Huskies, a team coming off their second Hockey East Championship game appearance in three seasons.
The first play occurred Friday evening against the Rochester Institute of Technology Tigers. In the second period, RIT’s Athena Vasdani came out of the penalty box after completing a roughing penalty and had a golden opportunity to cut into a 2-0 Husky lead as she possessed the puck and only had the goalie to beat. She did not find the back of the net as Camryn Wong thwarted her breakaway opportunity; however, Wong got assessed a tripping penalty and the Tigers got a penalty shot instead of the typical two-minute power play.
Tia Chan, with her back against the wall and playing in her first collegiate game since the 2020-21 season, denied Emma Roland’s chance by forcing her shot to skid past the line and kept RIT off the board. But how did the Huskies get that lead in the first place?
Twelve minutes into the season, Megan Woodworth’s shot rebounded off RIT goaltender Sarah Coe, but Wong finished it off by placing the puck in the back of the net. Mobbed by her teammates, Wong celebrated not only her first goal of the season, but her first since the 2019-20 campaign.
A little over a minute after the first goal, Kate Thurman trickled her second chance-shot past the goal line and into the net for her second career goal. Brianna Ware, who had a shot on goal during that sequence, got credited with the assist, but that was not the last time her name would appear on the scoresheet.
The Huskies’ special teams unit got in on the action and had multiple chances to show their stuff. UConn committed three penalties between the first and second periods and killed all of them. The Huskies even grabbed a couple of short-handed shots on goal during their third penalty kill that displayed their aggression. UConn did not convert their one power play opportunity into a goal.
None of the penalties during the period resulted in goals, but an offensive chance by the Huskies did as Riley Grimley dished a pass to College of the Holy Cross transfer, Carlie Magier, who rifled the shot home for her first goal in a UConn sweater. RIT took it to the Huskies in the third period, but the defense shut down every opportunity in a 3-0 season-opening victory.
Chan finished with a 30-save shutout, the third of her career, while the Huskies finished with 35 shots on goal.
The second major highlight occurred the following afternoon. With time winding down in the third period of a tie game, UConn went on the power play as RIT’s Ella Fesette committed a holding penalty. A few seconds at the end of the power play were all that Claire Peterson needed as she fired a shot through multiple defenders and under the crossbar for the game-winning goal.
Prior to that goal, UConn competed with RIT for most of the contest. The Huskies got on the board first with freshman Meghane Duchesne-Chalifoux’s first career goal late in the first period. Ware earned her second assist of the weekend on the goal, which came following a series of missed shots and saves from both teams.
Things got chippier in the second period as both teams committed tripping penalties. Neither team capitalized on their opportunities, but less than 30 seconds after UConn’s power play ended, Amy Dobson took the puck herself and scored RIT’s first goal of the season to tie the game at one.
The Huskies needed to respond to the adversity in front of them, which did not take long. A minute after the goal, UConn went back on the power play as Chloe McNeil committed a tripping penalty. Fifteen seconds later, Coryn Tormala earned her first goal as captain while Ware garnered her third assist of the weekend as the Huskies went into the intermission up 2-1.
Fifty seconds into the third period, Ava Rinker committed a boarding penalty that gave RIT a prime opportunity to tie the game again. They seized that chance in 28 seconds as Vasdani scored unassisted on the powerplay.
The Tigers pounded the net throughout the third period, but Megan Warrener turned all 16 of their shots down. Even with two additional powerplays and six shots during them in the frame, RIT could not snatch the lead as Warrener and the defense made stop after stop. Those saves gave UConn the opportunity to take the lead, which Peterson did with the remaining two minutes and 19 seconds in the game.
The Tigers then went into desperation mode with little time remaining. They even pulled their goalie for the final minute, but none of their shots found twine and the Huskies swept the series with a thrilling 3-2 victory.
Warrener allowed two goals, which was different from her first career start as she posted a shutout, but made 37 saves for her first win of the season. Coe started both contests for RIT, making 32 saves in the first and 26 saves in the second while allowing three goals and taking the loss both times.
Ware finished the weekend with three assists while Wong, Tormala, Peterson and Magier all grabbed two points (one goal and one assist). UConn had 64 shots on goal and their goaltenders made 67 saves while committing seven penalties.
The Huskies (2-0-0) now turn their attention to a home-and-home series with the Stonehill College Skyhawks. This will be their first ever matchup against the newly promoted Division I school, and the opening faceoff at the Mark Edward Freitas Ice Forum is scheduled for Friday, Sept. 30, at 6 p.m.