In the first ever playoff game hosted at the Toscano Family Ice Forum, the No. 19 UConn men’s hockey team fell to UMass Lowell 2-1.
This is the first ever playoff matchup between No. 4-seeded UConn and No. 5-seeded UMass Lowell in the Hockey East conference. The contest marked the third year in a row that the Huskies have hosted a quarterfinal matchup, the fourth overall.
UConn outshot the visiting UMass Lowell 41-17 in the game, but was one goal short of moving on to the next round of the Hockey East Tournament. UMass Lowell graduate student goaltender Gustavs Davis Grigals had an unbelievable performance, recording a whopping 40 saves to lead the River Hawks to victory over the Huskies.
UMass Lowell got off on the right foot in the first period with a pair of goals. At 8:51 in the first period, Blake Wells scored a goal assisted by junior Ben Meehan to get the River Hawks on the board. UMass Lowell extended their lead in the period after an unassisted goal tipped in by sophomore Owen Cole. The Huskies remained scoreless, ending the first period down 2-0. In the first frame, the Huskies recorded 13 shots on goal while the River Hawks had 12.
UMass Lowell continued to blank UConn in the second period. Although the home team created many opportunities to get to the net having 25 shots on goal in the period, they never managed to solve netminder Grigals. The Huskies were able to slow down the River Hawks offense with goaltender Aresenii Sergeev in the net, but offense is what they were missing.
At the start of the third period, the Huskies pressured the River Hawks’ defense to do anything in their power to score. Shot after shot, they kept getting denied by Grigals. With about three minutes left in regulation, the Huskies pulled Sergeev for an extra skater to give them the best chance to get on the scoreboard. Once there were six skaters on the ice for the Huskies, a rally began that electrified the Toscano Family Ice Forum in hopes of UConn to make a comeback.
After a scramble in front of the net, junior Nick Capone knocked the puck across the goal line to give the Huskies their first goal of the game. This was Capone’s ninth score of the year. Shortly after, UMass Lowell challenged the gritty goal, but after review the play stood. UConn cut the lead in half with 1:29 left in the game. The Huskies then took a timeout, as they had very limited time to tie the game. In the final minute of regulation, UConn pressured UML’s defense, but was not able to pass Grigals, resulting in the River Hawks taking the 2-1 win to advance.
Sergeev finished the game with 15 saves and kept UMass Lowell scoreless for two periods. UConn held UML to just five attempted shots in the last two frames, shutting down their offense. Ultimately, the two short goals that he allowed at the start was the ending case for Connecticut.
Grigals was the star of the show from the beginning, having 13 saves in both the first and second period with 14 in the final frame. He almost completed a perfect shutout of the Huskies until Capone got to the net with 1:29 left in the game. Grigals earned his 12th win of the season, sending UMass Lowell to the Hockey East Tournament semifinals which will be hosted at TD Garden in Boston next weekend.
“We had some great chances – they left everything on the ice, they competed as hard as they could and that’s all I can ask of our team,” said UConn head coach Mike Cavanaugh. “All the things we asked them to be, they were. We just couldn’t get the puck by Grigals tonight.”
The Huskies concluded the 2022-23 campaign with a 20-12-3 overall record which is the first time in program history that the team has recorded back-to-back seasons with 20 wins.
With the loss, Connecticut’s season has come to a close, as they are already eliminated from NCAA Tournament contention. The Ice Bus may be done for this season, but Coach Cavanaugh has an image for building the program for the long run and knows that they can reach new heights. The Huskies have set goals for putting the team in a position to push above a fourth-place Hockey East ranking and earning the program’s first-ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament.