The No. 8 UConn men’s hockey team won their Tuesday night contest against the Merrimack College Warriors in North Andover, Massachusetts, winning 3-1.
Coming off of their worst loss of the season, a 6-0 landslide to Cornell University at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, the Huskies’ were in search of a strong bounce-back effort against a scorching-hot Warriors squad that entered the contest amidst a seven-game win streak. Following puck-drop on Tuesday, both teams exchanged possessions over the opening minutes of the frame. The game’s first scoring opportunity came in the fifth minute of action when Merrimack sophomore Devlin O’Brien penetrated UConn’s goal, but goalkeeper Arsenii Sergeev tracked O’Brien down as he closed down on Connecticut’s net and knocked the puck away.
It was the Warriors who struck first at the 6:41 minute mark of the period. Lead scorer Alex Jefferies secured possession of the puck on his side of the ice and passed the puck beyond mid-rink to his teammate. Jefferies then moved in front of UConn’s goal and received the puck back, quickly wristing a shot to the left of Sergeev for the score. The junior’s fifth goal of the season put his team up, 1-0.
Immediately following the score, a majority of play was played on the UConn side of the ice as Merrimack pressured the back line of Connecticut’s defense. The Warriors entered their first power play in the eight minute of the period folloAwing a Husky penalty. Connecticut caught a break with 9:30 remaining in the period when Sergeev was unable to secure possession of the puck in his goal, and the loose puck slid into the net for what should’ve been Merrimack’s second goal. However, the referees blew the play dead and awarded possession back to the Huskies, allowing UConn to kill the power play. Merrimack would enter a second power play with 6:10 remaining in the period, but this time, standout Ryan Tverberg stole the puck and had a clear lane at Merrimack’s goal. A tripping penalty was called against the Warriors and nullified the power play almost as soon as it had begun. The two teams would not score again in the period, with Merrimack entering the break still up 1-0.
The second period was a much more tightly-knit battle as the two teams went back-and-forth, exchanging opportunities. Merrimack entered their third power play of the game just two minutes into the resumption of play, though the Huskies were able to kill the advantage. Connecticut entered their own power play a couple of minutes later following a Warriors penalty, and UConn made its opponent pay. Following a blown play around the Merrimack goal that resulted in a missed shot, Hudson Schandor chased down the loose puck and found teammate Samu Salminen on the other side of the net. The freshman forward fired a quick shot into the Merrimack goal to tie the game at 1-1. The goal was the second of the season for Salminen after he scored his first career goal in a game earlier this month against Providence.
Connecticut’s defense stepped up in a major way to prevent the Warriors from pulling ahead in the second. Both Sergeev and defensemen Jake Flynn each made spectacular plays near their own goal to halt their opponent. Sergeev used his quick reflexes to save a tough shot while Flynn chased down a Merrimack player with a clear lane to his goal. The two teams would continue the back-and-forth affair to close the period and enter the third frame tied 1-1.
The Huskies entered the third period in the power play, carrying over from the second, though the team could not capitalize with the extra skater. Five minutes into the period, Tverberg crossed the rink with the puck and fired a shot while still moving toward the sideline. Though the initial shot was blocked, Jake Percival was near the Warriors’ goal to rebound the miss and slam home the putback, effectively breaking the tie and giving Connecticut the 2-1 lead. The goal was Percival’s fifth of the season.
A minute later, Jefferies chased down UConn’s goal and had a good look in front of the net, but the forward may have skated too close to the goal as he was unable to maneuver the puck around Sergeev before the goalie managed the save. The miss was one of a few opportunities that the Warriors had to gain momentum, though Sergeev was able to prevent his opponent from retaking control of the game.
Merrimack entered a power play in the eight minute after Ty Almonte got involved in a scuffle with a Merrimack player. With 30 seconds remaining in the power play, the Huskies were nearly able to rally and add a score while still down a skater. Schandor had a good look at the Warriors net, but a save by Hugo Ollas in the goal prevented the Huskies from extending their lead. Just as the power play was ending, Merrimack had taken the puck all the way back to UConn’s side of the ice and penetrated the goal, but another timely save by Sergeev kept the score 2-1.
Tverberg utilized his speed to challenge the Warriors defense as he raced down the sideline before feeding Schandor near the goal once again a few minutes later. The speed of Tverberg caused the Warriors’ defense to fall behind, which led to a slashing penalty when Schandor was tripped from behind near the goal, putting the Huskies into the power play once again. However, not ten seconds later, a slashing penalty was called on UConn after the Warriors had swarmed the Connecticut goal and the power play was nullified.
Nick Capone sealed the win for UConn when he added a third goal, his sixth of the season, with just over two minutes remaining in the game. After the puck had come loose and slid towards the center of the ice, Capone secured the puck and did a complete turn to fire his shot in one fluid motion. The puck was lifted into the top-left corner of the goal to up Connecticut’s lead to 3-1. The score would remain the same as Merrimack tried, but ultimately failed, to score in the final two minutes of the contest.
With the win, the Huskies advance to 11-3-3 overall on the season. The team remains atop the Hockey East with a record of 8-2-2 in conference play. The Huskies were able to collect three points with the victory, giving them 27 points so far this season and adding to their conference lead over second-place Northeastern (22).
UConn’s next game comes on Friday against the same Merrimack Warriors team, this time on the Huskies’ turf. Puck-drop is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. from the XL Center in Hartford, Connecticut. The game can be streamed using ESPN+, and live updates will be provided online by StatBroadcast.