Durham, NH – The Twitter hashtag handle for the University of Connecticut Huskies men’s ice hockey team is #IceBus. On Saturday, #IceBus rolled onto the University of New Hampshire campus and proceeded to run over the Wildcats on the Whittemore Center ice 6-1 in front of 5,574 fans. Two nights in a row, the UNH squad fell apart in the second period and never recovered.
Coming into weekend action, The Wildcats trailed Merrimack College by five points and UConn by four points. Losing to both this weekend, while each won their non-UNH game, the Wildcats have fallen behind 11 and 10 points, respectively. To say it was a disappointing weekend for UNH is an understatement.
“Not a very good weekend at all. Not what we wanted,” said UNH senior Captain Will McKinnon. “Not even close. tonight I thought we came out with some good effort for the first period and a half. Things didn’t seem to go our way. The puck didn’t seem to find the back of the net. I felt like every breakdown ended up in the back of ours. It’s something we need to tighten up.”
The Huskies gained the 1-0 lead at 4:02 of the first period when Hudson Schandor deposited a Ryan Tverberg two-on-one feed past UNH goalie Mike Robinson for his third goal of the season. Tverberg powered his way along the boards through the neutral zone and into the Wildcats zone before feathering a pass past UNH defenseman Colton Huard for Schandor to tap in.
The Wildcats pulled even as the final minute of first-period action wound down. Tyler Ward buried the rebound of a Ryan Verrier shot from the blue line. Huskies keeper Darion Hanson (31 saves) made the stop, but the rebound shot right to Ward for his fourth goal of the year. That would be the extent of the Wildcats offensive success on the evening.
The middle frame was a bugaboo for UNH for the second straight night. Once again, three goals in the second were too much of a mountain for New Hampshire to climb.
“I don’t want to say it’s a lapse of focus, I think guys are still competing, but I think, ultimately, that’s on the senior class,” said McKinnon of the second-period woes. “Most of all, on myself, making sure the guys are dialed in and we don’t have mistakes that end up in the back of our net. I’ll take ownership for that. That’s on me, and I have to make sure the guys are dialed in for sixty minutes.”
Jachym Kondelik broke the tie at 4:29 when he deked his way past a sprawling Robinson (25 saves) after gathering a Harrison Rees pass at the bottom of the left circle. Robinson’s push-off attempt dislodged the net, but Kondalik’s ninth of the season stood to make it 2-1 Huskies.
After a face-off win by UNH in the offensive zone to Hanson’s right, UConn forward Carter Turnbull outmuscled Kalle Eriksson for the puck at the blue line, and he was off to the races alone on Robinson. Turnbull beat Robinson five-hole for the 3-1 lead at 11:42.
Vladislav Firstov tipped a Jarrod Gourley slapshot from the blue line past Robinson at 13:47 to put the Huskies up 4-1. Gourley and Jake Flynn assisted Firstov’s eighth of the season.
“Kondelik’s goal is just a D-Zone coverage breakdown that you work on everyday,” said UNH coach Mike Souza. “The breakaway goal is breakaway goal, that happens. The tip-in goal, we don’t block a shot.”
“This is a real disappointing weekend for us,” added Souza.
The third period was just a formality as UConn added two goals for good measure. The first came with the New Hampshire net empty when Artem Shlaine outraced Eriksson to deposit the puck into the vacated goal to make it 5-1 at 16:14.
“We pulled the goalie just to, at that point, it was honestly just to try to work on it. You’re going to get in that situation again,” said Souza. “That’s why we did it. We talked about it. Why not try to get some work on it. We gave up one on it last night too.”
Just over a minute later, Tverberg added a high-light reel goal when UNH defenseman Verrier hauled down the 5′-11″ sophomore on a one-on-one battle towards goal. Tverberg quickly regained his footing and deked Robinson back-hand to forehand to cap off the night’s scoring at 17:50.
“I’m certainly happy with the six points, but it was not a 6-1 game,” said UConn Head Coach Mike Cavanaugh. “I didn’t think we were very sharp in the first. I thought we played a pretty good second period, but the third period I thought we played back on our heels and New Hampshire was taking it to us. Our goaltender was outstanding…We were just opportunistic tonight.”
“I thought we played a good second period tonight. We earned those goals that we scored but we were opportunistic in other areas,” added Cavanaugh. “It really wasn’t a 6-1 game that’s for sure.”
The Huskies visit Merrimack on Tuesday before heading to Boston College on Friday. Meanwhile, the Wildcats take on last-place Vermont in Burlington, VT., before hosting first-place UMass-Lowell on Sunday.