As the winds howled on the streets of Boston, the second day of the Hockey East playoffs got underway. The University of Connecticut Huskies took to the ice at Matthews Arena looking to extend their season. All they had to do was beat the defending Hockey East champion Northeastern Huskies on their home ice. They came close to doing it the night before and needed a bit more to force a decisive game 3. While they played a good game for the first two and a half periods, UConn committed a major error and ran out of steam in the third period.
The first period started fast and clean. The teams skated well and evenly; then Northeastern drew first blood. The red and black huskies won a faceoff, got the puck to Brendan Collier, and he shot the puck by UConn goaltender Adam Huska. Northeastern skated well for the rest of the period, outshooting UConn 10-9 and successfully killing off a hooking penalty by Garret Cockerill with less than four minutes in the period.
Northeastern kept up the pressure in the second period with one of the best scoring lines in the country. John and Nolan Stevens drove and shot on Huska. The puck bounced off Huska’s pad right to Zach Aston-Reese who shot on the open net to make the score 2-0. The goal was Aston-Reese’s 30th goal and 61st point of the season. UConn then climbed back into the game.
Four minutes after the Aston-Reese goal, Brian Morgan put in a rebound shot from the front of the left circle. UConn mounted more offensive pressure, outshooting their hosts 15-9 in the period. However, Northeastern reclaimed the momentum when Justin Howell was called for a two minute roughing penalty. Adam Gaudette buried a power play shot from the left to put Northeastern ahead 3-1. UConn did not give up. Johnny Austin took a shot from the blue line and Miles Gendron tipped the puck by Northeastern goaltender Ryan Ruck.
Northeastern only led 3-2 going into the 3rd period and the game continued to crescendo in the first half of the period. UConn made Ryan Ruck sweat with difficult shots from Tage Thompson and Joseph Marsonius. They looked to even the game and maybe take the lead or at least force overtime.
Alas, in one fell swoop, UConn ended their own chances to prolong their season when Evan Richardson put his stick into Garret Cockerill’s face while chasing a puck into the corner. Cockerill did not get up off the ice for a while and Richardson was assessed both a five-minute major penalty for contact to the face and a ten-minute game misconduct penalty.
Northeastern took the ensuing five-minute power play and scored three goals. Two of them came from their captain, John Stevens, and the last one came from freshman Jeremy Davies. The physicality did not end, though. Brian Morgan and Jake Schecter were called for matching two-minute minor penalties for slashing and ten-minute major penalties for game misconduct with two minutes left to play. Northeastern ended up winning the game 6-2.
After the game, both coaches were pleased with the performance of their teams for the first 51 minutes of play. UConn’s Mike Cavanaugh did not condemn Richardson’s penalty as the call that ended the game. He pointed out that his unit had killed multiple major penalties before, and that allowing three goals and failing to kill the penalty is what did them in.
UConn ends their season with a 12-16-8 record and losing seniors Evan Richardson and Rob Nichols and graduate student Brian Morgan to graduation. They will return with their top line of Karl El-Mir, Maxim Letunov, and Tage Thompson and their entire core of defensemen. For now though, the season blows away in the harsh winds of Boston.
Northeastern’s Jim Madigan praised his team’s performance against UConn over the two game series. He applauded his captain, John Stevens, for playing well after missing 13 games this season. He was also proud of his goaltender, Ryan Ruck, who made 32 saves on the night.
Northeastern awaits their next playoff opponent in the quarterfinals of the Hockey East Tournament as they continue their defense of the Hockey East championship. Their matchup will be determined by the outcome of tomorrow’s game between Merrimack College and New Hampshire at 7pm at Lawler Rink.
Other Hockey East matchups were decided today. Providence swept UMass Amherst and will travel to South Bend, Indiana to play Notre Dame next weekend. Vermont swept Maine and will play the Eagles of Boston College at Conte Forum next weekend. Boston University and UMass Lowell wait to find out who they will host in the Quarterfinal round of the Hockey East Tournament.