The No. 12 University of Connecticut men’s hockey team lost in the championship round of the 2023 Connecticut Ice Tournament to No. 3 Quinnipiac by a final score of 4-3, giving the team a second-place finish in the tournament.
Connecticut Ice is an annual ice hockey event celebrating the tradition and progress of youth and amateur hockey in the state of Connecticut. The event is headlined by a four-team tournament with participation from all four of the state’s Division I programs: UConn, Quinnipiac, Sacred Heart and Yale. Quinnipiac played host to the tournament games, with action taking place at M&T Bank Arena in Hamden, Conn.
UConn was paired with Yale in the first round and faced off in the tournament’s first game on Friday. The Huskies got their offense rolling quickly, as in the eighth minute of action, Matthew Wood crossed a pass to a crashing Justin Pearson, who crowded the Bulldog’s net and muscled in the short shot to convert on the power play. Later, in the 17th minute of the frame, Ryan Tverberg showed off his elite speed when he beat a Yale defender heading up the right side of the ice, finishing the possession with a sweet goal that he elevated past Bulldog’s goalie Luke Pearson, bar-down. The score gave the Ice Bus a two-goal advantage heading into the period intermission.
The Huskies took care of business in the second period, scoring four goals to all but cement a victory amidst the offensive onslaught. On a power play in the second minute, Matthew Wood made a few nice puck fakes and sized up Yale’s net, scorching his shot past three defenders and into the goal to up Connecticut’s lead to 3-0. Two minutes later, again on the power play, Wood led a fastbreak towards the Bulldog’s goal and dumped the puck off to Pearson on the left side of the rink. Pearson then connected with Samu Salminen, who ducked behind the undermanned Yale defense and slipped the puck into the net. The pretty display of passing advanced UConn’s lead to 4-0.
Connecticut wasn’t finished, as in the 16th minute of action, Ty Amonte fed Roman Kinal coming off of a faceoff on Yale’s side of the ice. The captain took the puck all the way to the goal, and though the Bulldog’s Pearson was able to stop his initial shot, Kinal came up with the loose puck and converted an easy layup on the other side of Pearson, giving UConn a five-goal lead. With under 30 seconds remaining in the frame, Jake Veilleux eyed down the Bulldog’s net and fired a shot from just inside the blue line. The puck somehow managed to reach the goal, and bounced off of Pearson’s guards and into the net. The score gave the Ice Bus a commanding 6-0 advantage heading into the third period.
Yale managed a score in the eighth minute of the third on a shot by Quinton Ong on the power play to cut UConn’s lead down to 6-1, though it would be the lone goal that the Bulldog’s would score in the contest. Though the Huskies didn’t score in the third, their impressive performance in the first two frames proved to be all that the team needed as they secured the blowout victory. With the dominant win, the Huskies were able to advance to the championship round to face a formidable opponent in Quinnipiac, who themselves defeated Sacred Heart with ease, 5-0, in the opening round.
The Ice Bus and the Bobcats took the ice to determine a tournament winner the next day on Saturday. Connecticut was unable to get off to the same quick start that it did the day prior, as it was Quinnipiac who converted the game’s first score on a goal from Skyler Brind ’Amour. The Huskies were able to answer the goal, scoring one of their own in the 12th minute of action. Racing out to lead a fastbreak, UConn’s Pearson was able to beat all of the Bobcat defenders and with just goalkeeper Ryan Keane in his way, wristed an exceptional shot to the left of Keane and into the net, evening the score at 1-1. Quinnipiac was quick with a response, as Ethan de Jong converted a second goal with just over a minute and a half remaining in the frame. Heading into the period intermission, the Bobcats were holding on to a 2-1 lead.
Connecticut was able to take control late in the third period to pull in front for its only lead of the contest. After taking control of the puck on his own side of the ice, UConn’s Jake Flynn sliced his way through the Bobcat defense before dropping the puck off to Salminen just in front of the opposition’s net. Salminen lifted a quick slapshot into the top-right corner of the goal, tying the game at two scores apiece. Just one minute later, Pearson crossed the ice and found a streaking Hudson Schandor closing in on Quinnipiac’s goal, who poked the short shot out of the reach of Keane for Connecticut’s third score of the contest. The second period concluded with the Ice Bus clinging onto a 3-2 advantage.
Quinnipiac proved why they are a consensus top-three team in the nation in the third period as they were not discouraged by the Ice Bus taking the lead and delivered a quick punch-back. Four minutes into the frame, de Jong converted on his second goal of the night, evening the contest back up with each team recording three goals. However, it was the Bobcats who would deliver the final blow courtesy of Jake Johnson, who scored with just under five minutes left to go in the period. The score gave Quinnipiac a 4-3 lead, an advantage that it would not squander to their in-state rival.
With the weekend win and loss, UConn secured a second place finish of the four teams competing in the Connecticut Ice Tournament. Their overall record now sits at 16-8-3, including an 10-6-2 mark in Hockey East play. The team has now compiled 32 points in conference play this year, good enough for fourth place and keeping them on-pace with all three teams in front of them: Boston University, Merrimack and Northeastern, respectively.
UConn’s next game will come against Hockey East rival Northeastern, a team that has had Connecticut’s number as of late, taking each of their two previous contests earlier this season. The contest will take place on Friday, Feb. 3 from the Matthews Arena in Boston, Mass. Puck-drop is scheduled for 7 p.m., with television coverage provided by ESPN+ and radio coverage on ESPN 97.9 FM.
Who the hell is Ryan Keane?