Connecticut’s Huskies Topple Northeastern, Advance in Postseason Play
Boston, MA – The Connecticut Huskies punched their ticket to Saturday’s Hockey East Finals with a convincing 4-1 win over the top-seeded Northeastern Huskies at TD Garden. UConn is making the most of their best postseason since joining Hockey East.
Connecticut beat Boston University 3-1 in Hartford, CT, to notch their first-ever playoff win on Saturday. They made it two straight wins in advancing to the HEA Finals for the first time. The Huskies will square off against the winner of the UMass-Lowell River Hawks vs. Massachusetts Minutemen game that follows at the Garden.
Northeastern had all the accolades coming into the game, but Connecticut had the drive during the game. Northeastern Head Coach Jerry Keefe earned Coach of the Year honors while sophomore goalie Devon Levi carried away the Rookie of the Year and Goalie of the Year awards for Hockey East. Levi is also a finalist for the Hobey Baker and Mike Richter Awards. In the end, it was Connecticut left standing for the Lamoriello Trophy.
“We’re certainly pleased to be moving onto the championship game tomorrow,” said Connecticut head coach Mike Cavanaugh. “We came in with the intention of winning the tournament just like all four teams that came here. I was really happy with the way we competed today for 60 minutes…We played on our toes and really played a strong third period. A full 60 and w’re happy to be playing tomorrow night at seven o’clock.”
UConn took it to NU from the opening puck drop and never relented.
“Credit to UConn, they came in; they outplayed us tonight,” said Keefe. They deserved to win the game. Credit it to them; I thought they stuck to what they did well, and it took us too long to get going.”
The UConn Huskies grabbed the 1-0 lead at 11:39 when Vladislav Firstuv beat Levi from the top of the crease. Nick Capone and Chase Bradley assisted Firstuv’s 11th. Capone floated a pass towards Bradley at the near post. Bradley one-handed the puck past Jordan Harris to Firstuv. The 6′-1″ junior from Yaroslavl, Russia, kicked the puck to his stick before slapping by Levi.
With UConn forward, Carter Turnbull in the penalty box for Slashing, Northeastern answered with an Aidan McDonough power-play blast at 14:13. Gunnarwolfe Fontaine dropped a pass back to Harris in the slot, who then dished to McDonounagh for the one-timer at the right face-off dot for his 24th goal.
In the second period, Levi stonewalled Turnbull on a breakaway. Then Darion Hanson matched him and stopped Jack Hughes on a breakaway before teammate Sam Colangelo hit the crossbar. Hanson (24 saves) was solid in recording his 20th win of the year and 50th of his career.
Hanson, a graduate student with three seasons at Union College under his belt, has great numbers this season for Connecticut. In 33 games this year, he went 19-14-0 with a 2.29 GAA and a .921 SV%. He was the sixth-best goalie in Hockey East by fractions.
“That didn’t motivate me too much,” said Hanson of all the talk on Levi coming into the game. “I think when you’re getting lost in those storylines and not focusing on yourself, that’s only going to be detrimental. I mean, I get all the talk about Devon. He’s an amazing goalie, one of the best I’ve ever played against.”
“I was just focused on doing my job,” added the East Bethel, Minnesota native. “Doing what I can to help the guys get a win.”
Roman Kinal put Connecticut ahead for good when he blasted a rebound into the Northeastern net at 13:47 of the second period. Harrison Rees fired off a two-line pass to a streaking Bradley, who raced into the NU zone and fired off a shot through the legs of defenseman Tyler Spott. Levi made the initial stop, and Bradley had a swipe at the rebound, which Levi saved, but the carom towards a hard-charging Kinal for his third goal.
Connecticut put it away in the third period when Ryan Tverbrg picked off a Jayden Struble pass just inside the blue line and streaked in towards Levi. Tverberg dangled on defenseman Julian Kislin and then outwaited a sprawling Levi before tucking the puck between the post and the goalie’s outstretched leg to make it 3-1 at 4:32.
“I was just hopping in the zone. I saw a puck that I could get to,” said 5′-11″ sophomore Tverberg of his goal. “I just made a move, got by, and I was able to put it in.”
A Northeastern turnover at their blueline led to Marc Gatcomb‘s empty-net goal with 2:08 left to play. The 6’-2″ senior from Woburn, Ma. raced past Tommy Miller and Hughes to back-hand the puck into the net to make it 4-1.
The NU Huskies thought they cut the score to 4-2 with four seconds remaining on another McDonough shot, but the linesmen reviewed the goal and ruled offsides.
The Connecticut fans in attendance went wild, and the Huskies (UConn) swarmed Hanson in front of his net. The party was just beginning.
“I think for us, coming into this year we had such high expectations for our group,” said Hanson. “Ithink we’ve faced more adversity than I think we would have expected preseason. Because of that I think we flew under the radar throughout the year. I think that it’s only helpful for us at this point. I think the adversity only made us stronger as a group and we’re playing in a championship game tomorrow.”
“One, it’s exciting because I think we’re built for it and two, it’s nice because it’s starting to pay off,” said Hanson.
“We openly talked about all our goals this year,” said coach Cavanaugh. “We don’t hide from them. I wasn;t shocked that we showed up and we weren’t starstruck in this building. We talked about it…We’re trying to meet all these challenges head on.”
With the win, UConn is one step closer to possibly advancing to the NCAA tournament. Meanwhile, the Northeastern Huskies have to wait to see how the league championships shake out. They are in a position to make the tournament, but every league winner that sits below them in the pairwise has a chance to knock them down a peg.