Boston, MA- The Connecticut Huskies have gone through their growing pains in Hockey East. The newest team in the conference hasn’t finished above .500 since joining their new conference in 2014. This year, Mike Cavanaugh has led his Ice Bus to be a respected program in Hockey East with victories over Providence, Boston College, and a dominating performance against Northeastern on November 28th. That performance against Boston’s Huskies was the first in program history.
On Friday night, UConn had a chance to make history with the program’s first victory at Matthews Arena. The win didn’t come easy, but Connecticut pulled out a victory against Hockey East’s top offense.
UConn came out firing in the first period, outshooting Northeastern 18-8 and out attempting their Boston counterparts 24-17. Cayden Primeau held strong in NU’s net and killed off every chance, including a power play following Ryan Shea’s tripping penalty. UConn Senior Goaltender Tanner Creel held true on all of Northeastern’s chances and his defense blocked 9 shots in front of him. The game went into the first intermission scoreless.
UConn opened up scoring early in the second period with two swift strikes. 4:52 into the frame, Spencer Naas beat Cayden Primeau from the right circle to put UConn up 1-0. 18 seconds later, Benjamin Freeman got to the left circle, turned around and fired another puck by Primeau for a 2-0 lead for the blue Huskies.
Northeastern controlled the rest of the period, with three power plays, six PP shots, and outshooting UConn 12-6. Once again, though, Tanner Creel was up to the task and stopped every shot he faced. The senior has been filling in for star sophomore and New York Rangers draft pick Adam Huska since mid-January when Huska injured his wrist. Tonight was his best performance, as he shutout the top Hockey East offense through two periods.
The third period began with even more UConn success. Derek Pratt caused a turnover at the Northeastern defensive blue line and found Maxim Letunov on his left. The junior made one move behind the NU defense and beat Primeau top shelf for a 3-0 UConn lead 1:46 into the third period.
The host’s offense did not stay quiet for long, as the top scoring line in the nation came to life in the middle of the frame. Nolan Stevens put in a loose puck when UConn was called for a delayed penalty. NU didn’t score on the ensuing power play, but the offensive surge didn’t stop. With seven minutes left, perfect passing sent the puck from Dylan Sikura to Nolan Stevens to Adam Gaudette, who put the puck by Creel to cut the deficit to 3-2.
Northeastern coach Jim Madigan pulled Primeau for the extra attacker, but NU couldn’t get the equalizer. Instead, Corey Ronan cleared a puck, beat Dylan Sikura to the other end of the ice, and put the puck in the empty net for a 4-2 score, the first UConn sweep of Northeastern, and the first victory in Matthews Arena in program history.
Northeastern’s Jim Madigan was displeased with his team’s effort.
“That was a big opportunity for our team to take a step forward after an emotional win on Monday. But we didn’t answer the bell for the first two periods. We’ve got one line that scores, one line that skates hard in our fourth line, and two lines that we’re still trying to find. They’re just not making plays. We don’t want to depend on Gaudette, Sikura, and Stevens for everything.”
The loss drops Northeastern to 16-8-5 overall and 11-6-3 in Hockey East. With both Providence and Boston College winning, Northeastern drops into third place in Hockey East. NU will have to gather themselves for the biggest game of the season on Monday, in which the Huskies will play Boston University at TD Garden for the Beanpot Championship. Puck drops against the Terriers at 7:30 pm.
UConn runs their record to 14-16-2 overall and 10-11-1 in Hockey East. This year is the first time with double-digit wins in Hockey East. Creel is 6-2-0 since becoming the starting goaltender on January 18th. Head Coach Mike Cavanaugh was proud of his team’s efforts this year and tonight.
“We played a fantastic first period. The key to the game was killing off all the power plays we faced. That’s one of the best power plays in the nation and we didn’t give up a power-play goal tonight. Tanner was outstanding tonight. It wasn’t too long ago that we got beat 9-0 in this building. These guys have battled hard for four years. This is the first class that will play all four years in Hockey East. They’ve gotten more points every year in the conference. It shows how committed they are to making this a top-notch program.”
UConn has only two games left on their schedule. Both are home games. Friday, February 16th, the Huskies host the Boston University Terriers. And on Thursday, February 22nd, UConn closes the regular season against the UMass Amherst Minutemen. Puck drops for both games at 7:05 PM at the XL Center.