Two thousand eighteen has not been kind to the Connecticut Huskies. UConn ended their first half with five wins out of six games but dropped their first three games of the new calendar year, including shutouts against Quinnipiac and Merrimack.
The Huskies returned home to hopefully right the ship against the 10th ranked team in the nation, the Providence College Friars. UConn’s efforts were hampered with starting goaltender Adam Huska suffering a wrist injury in practice on Monday and sitting out the weekend series. Senior Tanner Creel got the start and did not open well at the XL Center.
At the 3:55 mark of the first period, Josh Wilkins took a pass from Jacob Bryson and fired the puck by Creel on the second Friar shot of the game.
One minute and two seconds later, PC mounted a strong power play following a Karl El-Mir holding penalty. Once again, Wilkins got the puck and beat Creel to double the lead. The Senior settled down and controlled much of the remaining time while his offense got in a rhythm.
The Huskies fired nine shots on goal, but Friars goalie Hayden Hawkey shut down the attack. PC got one final goal in the frame when Vimal Sukumaran skated from end to end and dropped the puck by Creel. The Friars had a 3-0 lead at the end of the first, but Creel was not too rattled. He made 10 of 13 saves and was in the flow of the game.
UConn outshot the Friars in the second period 8-7 and slowed the pace down. UConn had two chances on the power play but generated no goals. Hawkey again recorded a shutout frame, with 17 saves in 17 attempts through the first two periods.
Connecticut carried much of the third period and finally got on the scoreboard early in the final stanza. Alexander Payusov swooped behind the net and scored on a wraparound 3:46 into the frame for his 10th of the season. Providence took control of the pace after the goal, outshooting UConn 10-7 in the period.
Creel did his part to keep the Huskies alive, but his offense could not generate the attack for one more score. A late boarding penalty against David Pratt killed UConn’s chances, and the Huskies dropped their sixth consecutive game and fifth of the new year.
UConn head coach Mike Cavanaugh was optimistic after the loss.
“Since the break, we’ve been a flat hockey team. We were not flat tonight. We created chances and got good looks. We just had a hard time beating Hawkey at their end. I was proud of Tanner (Creel) for fighting through the way he did. He’s a mentally tough kid and fought through that game.”
Alternate Captain Spencer Naas echoed his coach’s sentiment.
“We’ve got a good hockey team in that room. It’s just tough to play against Providence. We got better as the game got on, we settled into a rhythm and we can take plenty of good from this game.”
Creel recorded 27 saves. Payusov’s goal was his 10th of the season, making him the first Husky with double-digit goals this season. With the loss, Connecticut falls to 8-16-2 overall and 5-11-1 in Hockey East.
Providence Head Coach Nate Leaman was pleased but concerned after the game.
“We scored early and then we gave them an opening. We relaxed and thought the game would be easy. After they scored, we got some urgency back. But you can’t expect the game to come easy to you when leading early. Hayden was our best player tonight. He carried us to a win, especially late in the game.”
Josh Wilkins recorded his 10th and 11th goals of the season, making this his first multi-goal game since November 17th against Merrimack. This is the third consecutive game he has scored a goal.
With the win, the Friars jump to 16-7-2 overall and 9-4-2 in Hockey East. The teams will rematch on Saturday night in Providence, RI. Puck drops at 7 pm at Schnieder Arena.