Boston, MA- Wind howled and rain filled the streets of Boston as Connecticut and Northeastern met at Matthews Arena. The chaotic New England weather reflected the curious seasons authored by both teams and the style of play. Both sets of Huskies entered Friday night hovering around .500 overall and in conference play. Both early season-defining wins. Northeastern toppled St. Cloud at home and UConn controlled their series with conference foe Maine. And both played a clumsy and penalty-filled physical war that ended in thrilling fashion.
The first ten minutes of the game was clean; end to end hockey. Fans settled into Matthews Arena expecting a speedy, skill-driven contest. After the first ten minutes, the Huskies combined for six minor penalties and a five-minute major. As the war picked up, Mike Cavanaugh’s troops landed the first blow. Roman Kinal received a puck at the left point. He wristed a puck towards Cayden Primeau and a plethora of screening players. Fortunately, the puck had eyes. The freshman from Waterford, MI landed his first collegiate goal with 3:40 remaining in the first. UConn outshot Northeastern 12-10 and held the lead entering intermission.
Early in the frame, Lincoln Griffin created a solo rush through traffic but was hauled down in the slot as he shot. For his efforts, Griffin was awarded a penalty shot. He took the puck, sized up UConn goalie Adam Huska, and lasered it behind the visiting goalie, but caught the pipe instead of twine. Northeastern fought on and got more chances.
Northeastern did not stay on the mat long. Halfway into the second period, star UConn freshman Ruslan Iskhakov took an unusual minor penalty: a faceoff violation for playing the puck with his hands. On the ensuing power play, Jeremy Davies mirrored Kinal from the prior period, firing a point shot with eyes through the opposing goalie. Northeastern dictated pace the rest of the way, winning the shots battle 10-7 and peppering UConn netminder Adam Huska. The junior from Zvolen, Slovakia, held firm, and his offense reclaimed the lead. Ruslan Iskhakov moved the puck up the ice and fed Alternate Captain Max Kalter for his second goal this season with 2:41 remaining in the second.
Northeastern jumped hard off the starting blocks in the final period, winning the shot battle 19-5. Adam Huska held his own for much of the frame, but was not perfect. Just after the ten-minute mark of the third, Karl El-Mir and Brian Rigali took minor penalties, offensive interference and tripping respectively. On the two-man advantage, Zach Solow potted the equalizer. As regulation waned, Northeastern benefited from a fortunate bounce. Tyler Madden took the puck at the left point. He fired it at the net. Red-Shirt senior Brandon Hawkins was screening and accidentally tipped the puck. In a moment of fortune, Hawkins’ tip scooted behind Huska for the lead with 1:14 to play. Cavanaugh pulled his goalie for an extra attacker, but Northeastern killed the final minute and change for a stirring win in front of their raucous fans.
The teams combined for 16 penalties. Many more were near-infractions, and the teams regularly traded shoves after the whistle, requiring separation by the officials. UConn’s Adam Huska recorded 36 saves on 39 shots faced, including 17 saves in the final frame.
UConn Head Coach Mike Cavanaugh was surprisingly optimistic following the game.
“Certainly a disappointing loss for our team,” Cavanaugh said. “I really like our club. I like how we’re playing the game. I think when you have a young team, one of the hardest things to learn how to do is close out games. It’s something we’ve struggled with here the last three games. We’ll get better. I’m excited to see what this team’s gonna look like in January and February.”
UConn drops to 4-4-1 overall and 2-3-1 in Hockey East play. They return home on Tuesday night for a home, non-conference bout with the Brown University Bears. Puck drops at 7:05 pm ET at the XL Center in Hartford, CT.
Jeremy Davies recorded a goal and an assist for two points. He is now the second highest scoring defenceman in Hockey East, behind only UMass’s Cale Makar. Cayden Primeau recorded 22 saves on 24 shots faced.
Northeastern Head Coach Jim Madigan was proud of his team for the win.
“I liked the way we responded in the second and particularly the third period,” Madigan said. “I didn’t think we started off really well in the first period. I thought we were really slow and they were beating us to pucks. We’ve talked all season long, it’s gonna be these one-goal games and we’ve grinded it out. Our guys stuck with it. I thought it was a great team win here tonight and hopefully, it gives us momentum going into tomorrow night.” On the physical nature of the game, Madigan quipped, “Some of our smaller guys are some of our most gritty guys on the team and so no one’s backing down; that’s the motto of Northeastern hockey, no one’s backing down, that’s not part of our DNA.”
Northeastern improves to 5-3-1 overall and 2-1-1 in Hockey East. The Huskies host UMass Lowell tomorrow night at Matthews to finish the weekend. Puck drops at 7 pm ET in Boston.