Men’s Hockey: No. 10 Huskies ring in the new year with old winning habits

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The No. 10 University of Connecticut men’s hockey team wrapped up a historic 2022 in electric fashion, defeating the Long Island University Sharks 5-3 on Saturday in Hartford, Conn.

Not only did Saturday mark a wrap on the calendar year; it was also the men’s hockey team’s final home game at the XL Center in Hartford before integrating the Toscano Family Ice Forum in Storrs as their home arena. Despite the UConn men’s and women’s basketball teams also playing on the same day, the Husky faithful made sure to show their appreciation for the team by packing the XL in what was one of the best fan turnouts for Ice Bus this season. The team didn’t disappoint the home crowd, producing three action-packed periods of hockey.

The Huskies began play in the first period by dominating possession of the puck. In the eighth minute of action, defensemen John Spetz received the puck close to the sideline from teammate Andrew Lucas. Crossing from the right to the left towards the center of the ice, Spetz fired a backhand shot directly in front of the Sharks’ goal and behind goalkeeper Vinnie Purpura for the game’s first score. For Spetz, it was his second goal of the season, while Lucas was credited with the assist.

In the 16th minute of the frame, Connecticut’s Ryan Tverberg came up with a steal on LIU’s side of the rink. He fed Jake Percival the puck just adjacent to the goal, and the forward quickly touched the puck over to Samu Salminen on the other side of the net. The freshman slapped a shot at the goal, and though Purpura initially caught a piece of the puck, knocking it into the air, it fell beyond the barrier of the goal, resulting in a second goal for UConn. For Salminen, it was his fourth goal of the season, and both Percival and Tverberg were awarded assists on the play. The Huskies two-goal lead was short-lived, as LIU’s Isaiah Fox managed a score on an assist from Josh Zary just one minute later. The period concluded with Connecticut maintaining a 2-1 advantage.

Five minutes into the second period, Connecticut entered the power play as a result of a penalty by the Sharks. The team took advantage of the extra skater, as Chase Bradley was able to find a lane towards the LIU goal and raised a well-placed backhand shot over the shoulder of Purpura. The score upped UConn’s lead back to two goals with the 3-1 edge. The goal was the eighth of the campaign for Bradley, while Spetz tallied his second point of the contest as he was awarded an assist on the play.

Tempers began to flare throughout the second period. With both offenses taking turns penetrating the opponent’s net, players became congested around the net and words were exchanged, often requiring the referee’s involvement to return attention to the game. Things escalated even more later in the period when Connecticut’s Jake Percival got into a physical altercation with one of the Sharks’ players near LIU’s goal. Though both players put hands on each other, the referees again intervened to ensure that the scuffle remained under control. The Sharks’ offense couldn’t convert on any of their shot attempts in the frame, as UConn took the 3-1 advantage into the final period.

Despite being down by multiple scores, the Sharks found a way to hang with the Huskies throughout the third period. Six minutes into the frame while on a power play, LIU’s Anthony Vincent was able to find the net for the Sharks’ second goal of the contest, cutting Connecticut’s lead to 3-2. The Ice Bus responded three minutes later when Matthew Wood received the puck along the left side of the rink and turned towards the LIU goal with a full head of steam. As he got closer to the net, the freshman blistered a shot up and passed Purpura into the back of the goal, not allowing the goalie any time to raise his mit and challenge the shot. The goal was the seventh of the season for Wood, while captain Hudson Schandor and Spetz assisted on the play. With his second assist of the game, Spetz raised his season total to 16, further extending his team lead.

The Huskies maintained a comfortable 4-2 edge until the 14th minute of the period, when the Sharks once again cut UConn’s lead to one. This time, it was Austin Rook who converted for LIU, giving the team hope that it could find an equalizing score with over five minutes remaining in the frame. However, it was Connecticut who had the last laugh when they cemented the victory with their fifth score of the game. With just over two minutes remaining, Justin Pearson made his way towards the LIU goal with just one defender separating him from the goalie. The forward found another gear to turn the corner around the defender and cross in front of the Sharks’ goal, wristing the off-balance shot by Purpura and into the net. For Pearson, it was his sixth goal of the season, while Schandor tallied his second point of the game by assisting on the play. 

Goalkeeper Logan Terness was instrumental in fending off the Sharks’ attacks on offense. Throughout the contest, the sophomore made one timely save after another as he would not allow LIU to find an equalizing score despite the opponent chipping away at UConn’s lead. In total, Terseness tallied 35 saves, including 15 in the third and final frame. Opposite the rink, LIU’s Purpura managed 27 saves in the contest. The Huskies committed more penalties than the Sharks (5-2) and went 1-1 on the power play, with LIU going 1-3 with the extra skater. 

With the win, the Huskies advance to 13-5-3 overall on the season. With 27 points in conference play, Connecticut maintains its pace with No. 6 Merrimack at the top of the Hockey East standings, though UConn has played three more conference games than Warriors. The Sharks, meanwhile, lost their second consecutive game to the Ice Bus following an overtime loss on Thursday and is now 6-13-1 on the season. The victory cemented 2022 as one of the most historic seasons in program history, as the Ice Bus earned an appearance in the Hockey East Championship back in March and reached a top-10 national ranking for the first time ever, climbing as high as No. 6 in the country. As the team looks forward to the new year, they hope to maintain the old habits of 2022 that helped elevate the program to elite status.

UConn’s next game will come against Hockey East rival Northeastern on Saturday, January 7. The two teams will be participating in the Frozen Fenway at Fenway Park in Boston, Mass. Puck-drop is scheduled for 2:30 p.m., with television coverage provided by NESN and radio coverage on ESPN 97.9 FM.

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