BY: Gerry Cantlon, Howlings
HARTFORD, CT – For the third time in four games, the UConn Huskies (2-1-3) went to extra time against an opponent and finished the game in a tie.
Each team had a chance to end things in the extra session.
Swedish AIC freshmen Zacharia Skog, who was making his collegiate debut, made many top saves in net but did his best Pekka Rinne impression stopping Evan Richardson on a wraparound attempt at 3:09.
“I felt really good on that save,” Skog said. “I kept us in the game and that was really important for us (at that point of the game).”
No dispute from the UConn side.
“(Skog) was outstanding and Evan was one of our better forwards (with a team-high six shots). He created a lot. He stopped Evan on a breakaway, (Brian) Freeman on a breakaway, Justin Howell on a breakaway. Evan on that wraparound and credit AIC they blocked a lot of shots too and battled hard.” head coach Mike Cavanaugh said.
UConn goalie Rob Nichols was not tested a lot (18 shots) at the end of overtime on a late powerplay. He stopped back-to-back shots. The first came from Johno May and then Martin Mellberg and as the final seconds ticked away, he stopped a sharp angle shot by Bryant Christian from the lower right wing circle.
Clearly, the powerplay is a staple of UConn’s success. After converting on their first man-up opportunity, they came up with goose eggs on their next nine chances the rest of the night.
“The story of the game is we were oh-for-five on the powerplay in the third period,” Cavanaugh said. “We couldn’t convert. We had many chances to make it 3-2.”
From the AIC point of view, first-year head coach Eric Land was none too happy. “To state the obvious, our penalty killing was very good tonight. I like how we did five-on-five, but I just didn’t see enough of it. Ten penalties, twenty minutes in penalties is a tough way to try to win a hockey game. Zach was tremendous. Half of their shots (19) were on the powerplay. Give up 19 shots on the powerplay is a tough way to make a living. Our guys have to learn to battle through that and learn to compete within the rules. We have to make adjustments to the officials here. It’s been two games in a row where we feel our discipline hasn’t even been close in that respect, not even close. I’m disappointed.”
The one thing everybody was in agreement about was Skog, AIC’s freshmen goalie. The Swede was scintillating in goal stopping 34 of 36 shots and with a team competing with ten freshmen.
“Great to start the season to have a game like this. It’s tough to try to win games like that (with all the PK time), but for me personally very satisfying,” Skog remarked.
The forwards did have their problems solving the Skog riddle.
“We got frustrated, but the coach said we have to be mentally tough and we have to capitalize and we have to go back to the bench and get ready for the next shift,” remarked sophomore Karl El-Mir.
The second period the Huskies had many quality chances, but simply couldn’t bury them.
“We had three breakaways and we couldn’t convert on any of them,” Cavanaugh said.
Jesse Schwartz twice had golden chances and the goal post denied him both times. The first came when the AIC defenseman fell down. Schwartz charged in and sent a ten-foot snapshot that hit where the joint of where the crossbar and post meet.
The second bid saw Schwartz on a two-on-one and fired it high hit off Skog’s elbow and off the crossbar and came back into the back of his legs of Skog and he fell back on the puck.
Richardson went in on a clean breakaway and missed the net shortly after Schwartz’s second chance.
Tage Thompson had a chance set up by a sweet setup from Brian Morgan from just five feet out and somehow missed the net with 6:10 to go.
AIC tied the game at two while on a four-on-three power play after a highly questionable set of matching penalties issued to Richardson and AIC’s Andrew DeBrincat for embellishing and interference respectively. The call was highly dubious.
The Yellowjackets pounced quickly scoring 17 seconds later.
Shawn McBride went down the right wing and lost control of the puck, but was able to flip a one-handed shot towards the net. The puck went off Derek Pratt’s skate and past Nichols to the short-side at 15:08. The goal was Pratt’s first of the year.
It wasn’t pretty, but UConn emerged from the first period up 2-1.
The power play got the Huskies their first goal as Richardson scored from the right point on a perfect diagonal pass from the left wing corner from Freeman. Richardson buried a low, hard slapshot that beat Skog cleanly at 9:14.
The Huskies held the shot advantage, but couldn’t cash in on some quality chances and kept missing the net altogether.
The AIC Yellowjackets stung the Huskies late in the period as Jared Pike was able to wheel around in the Huskies’ zone. Pike went around the back of the net to the right wing circle completely unchecked and then fired a shot that beat Nichols high over his left shoulder on the short side. Nichols was screened by El-Mir at 18:49. For Pike, it was his first goal of the season.
The Huskies did answer back quickly avoiding entering the locker room on a down note.
Just 30 seconds later, El-Mir redeemed himself by completing a nice three-way passing sequence on a break-in with Richardson on the left wing. A short pass to Max Kalter by El-Mir allowed Kalter to flip a perfect backhand pass to El-Mir, a left-handed shot, on the right wing. El-Mir fired his third of the young season with 41.4 seconds left on the clock.
“Me, Kalter and Richardson had a good game. We could even get better. It’s easy to play with guys who move the puck like that,” El-Mir a native of Montreal, said.
The Huskies hit the road for the next five games. they will play at Notre Dame next weekend in a conference game. This is the last season that the Fighting Irish will be in Hockey East. Notre Dame heads to the Big 10 next year.
UCONN will next play at the XL Center on Tuesday, November 18 against Boston University at 7pm.
Injuries and a suspension pushed Thompson to first line center and Freeman, a freshman, to second line center.
Maxim Letunov served an automatic one game supension for a game disqualification against Quinnipiac.
Jeff Wright is lost for the season with an upper-body injury.
David Drake was scratched for the Huskies. Derek Pratt took his spot on the number one defense pairing.
Drake, according to Cavanaugh, is out for at least a month with an upper-body injury.
AIC featured Shelton, CT native, Billy Vizzo, on right wing on the fourth line.
This season AIC will play all their home games at the Mass Mutual Center in Springfield.
AIC junior Andrew DeBrincat is the older brother of the Chicago Blackhawks second-round pick in last summer’s draft. Alex DeBrincat plays with Erie (OHL).
Dan Allen who played college club hockey with Western Connecticut State University (ACHA Division-2) was named assistant coach with St. Michaels (VT) (NEHC).