DURHAM, N.H.—UConn’s inaugural season in Hockey East came to a crushing end at the Whittemore Center on Saturday Night.
Months after being picked to finish dead last in the conference and a day after losing by three goals the little Ice Bus that could gave the UNH Wildcats all they could handle but fell 2-0 in the last game of the season.
After surrendering three goals on the power play last night, the Huskie’s penalty kill was perfect on Saturday. Both teams played a clean first period but UConn started to rack up the penalties in the second period. New Hampshire received four opportunities with the man advantage in the period and though it didn’t hurt them on the scoreboard, head coach Mike Cavanaugh felt it played a major role in the loss.
“Special teams killed us last night. Tonight it didn’t kill us, we did a terrific job at killing their penalties but it took a lot of wind out of our sails in that second period. Said Cavanaugh. “We got outshot 19-3 in that period and I think a large portion of it was that we spent roughly eight minutes killing penalties.”
Though the penalty kill was far better on Saturday, the Huskies still had trouble finding an offensive rhythm. The Wildcats outshot UConn 44-19. UConn’s best scoring chance came in the first period when Patrick Kirtland unleashed a shot from the left faceoff circle that beat UNH goaltender Daniel Tirone but ricocheted off the post.
With offensive scoring chances few and far between, a Herculean effort was required from Rob Nichols on the other end of the ice. Nichols, a goaltender that already makes the extreme look routine, provided his best performance of the season.
The sophomore goaltender finished with new career high of 43 saves but none better than his robbery in the late stages of the second. Facing a power play after already stopping one shot attempt on the left side of the night, Nichols was forced to make a ridiculous sprawling across the crease. The puck met pads and UConn managed to keep UNH scoreless going into the final period.
No team had registered a shot on goal in the first five minutes of the third period until Nichols was bombarded with an array of shots. UNH turned the front of the crease into a shooting gallery but somehow Nichols was able to get his pads on every shot and keep the scoreboard empty.
UNH finally broke through more than halfway through the third when Jamie Hill found nothing but clear ice ahead of him on a breakaway. Nichols was able to block the shot but was unable to stop Kyle Smith’s follow up attempt. Hill had careened into Nichols and though the officials looked at it, the play stood as a good goal.
With the season slipping away and desperate for the equalizer, UConn was unable to pull Nichols. Turnovers and bad puck possession doomed the Huskies as they were never able to get it out of their zone. Grayson Downing put the final nail in the coffin with his 18th goal of the season with less than a minute remaining.
It was the fourth time this year Nichols had eclipsed 40 saves but UConn’s 14 shots were a season low and senior Trevor Gerling knows that no matter how great the performance behind you is, it’s hard to win many games that way.
“Rob held us in there and he made some turning point saves for us.” Said Gerling “It is a little frustrating for the forwards and the defense to not be able to contribute and help him out cause he can stop all the shots but if we don’t put one in there we can’t win games.”
UConn finishes the season with a 10-19-7 record in their first season in Hockey East. Though they didn’t finish with a victory in the playoffs, it is obvious that Coach Cavanaugh and his team belonged in a conference with the elite of College Hockey.
“I’m really proud of the group of guys I have in there.” Said Cavanaugh “This was going to be an interesting year for us, with our first year in Hockey East. Nobody really knew how it was going to go. We were picked last in the league. I think we surprised a lot of people.
Saturday was the final time six players would don a UConn jersey but as the Huskies start to look toward next season, coach Cavanaugh wanted it to be known what the departing seniors meant to the program.
“This program will compete for championships. And when we do I’m going to pick up the phone and call Trevor Gerling, and Ryan Tyson and the rest of that senior class and thank them for being the building blocks for getting us to that point.”