BY: Gerry Cantlon, Howlings
HAMDEN, CT – UConn Huskies hockey program, relatively new to the Divison One experience, still have a few miles to go before proving they can compete with elite college hockey.
The Quinnipiac Bobcats, the fourth-ranked team in the nation. displayed their speed and puck possession skills while outshooting the visiting Huskies 43-31 beat UConn 5-2 Wednesday night at the High Points Solutions Arena.
“It certainly wasn’t the result we wanted,” UConn head coach Mike Cavanaugh said afterward. “I was proud of the fight in our guys. We showed some fight in facing some adversity. We didn’t execute some plays that cost us our guys competed hard.”
The second period saw the Huskies show flashes of being competitive playing against the more experienced Bobcat program, but Quinnipiac struck like lightning.
The Huskies used their powerplay to get back into the game early in the second period at 2-1. Kasperi Ojantakanen’s quality scoring opportunity was stopped by the Bobcat’s Chris Truehl in net, but he was unable to control the rebound. Spencer Naas got to the puck and had three chances at it with the third time being the charm scoring his second goal of the season at 1:44.
Quinnipiac answered back two minutes later, reestablishing a two-goal lead.
Thomas Aldworth, a speedy player from Texas, swung in from the left wing side and moved to the right and put a perfect wraparound into the goal for his second of the season at 3:43 past freshman netminder Adam Huska who answered the call playing against one of Division I’s premier hockey programs.
The Huskies clawed back with one of their few effective rushes. The Huskies had Evan Richardson put a strong backhand shot on Truehl that he saved. Karl El-Mir was right there on the right wing side of the doorstep and using his forehand, flipped the puck into the open side of the net at 9:17 for his second of the season.
UConn gave up the center of the ice far too much and Quinnipiac made them pay for it. Bobcats established a three-goal lead 1:44 later.
Bobcat defenseman Brogan Rafferty roared through center-ice after taking a short pass from K.J. Tiefenworth, and went in on a clean breakaway and beat Huska with a backhand shot through the five-hole after extending himself as he tried to poke-check the puck at 11:01.
The Bobcats’ Connor Clifton sped through the neutral zone and wired one over Huska’s left shoulder for a 5-2 lead.
“We have a very active D-corps and we want to make plays in the neutral zone and we don’t want to have guys sit back and we did that well tonight,” Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold said.
The Bobcat defense wasn’t too shabby either. They limited Tage Thompson to just one shot on goal.
“He’s a tremendous hockey player and we were fired up and played like we do against a Boston College,” Pecknold said.
The Huskies played too passively and gave Quinnipiac quality chances. They went to the locker room up 2-0 in part because UConn’s 6’5 defenseman, David Drake, was injured on the game’s first shift after being drilled by Scott Davidson behind the net suffering an upper body injury.
The first goal saw Andrew Taverner launch one from the left point that sailed over Huska’s right shoulder, after being completely screened. UConn’s Joseph Masonius and QU’s Scott Davidson battled in front of Huska providing the screen.
Huska kept things close stopping Derek Smith and Davidson from the left point an right wing respectively.
Tommy Schutt and Connor Clifton had back-to-back shots on the same shift turned aside by the 6’3 Slovak freshmen.
Right after the first goal, the Huskies’ Maxim Letunov was hit with a major and game disqualification for drilling Chase Priskie into the end boards. It caused a big gash on his forehand and he did not return.
UConn also had to deal with Jeff Wight going down with a season-ending upper body injury on the first shift causing UConn to play short two of their natural centers for most of the game.
After the penalty was assessed to Letunov, the UConn PK weathered the storm. Tim Clifton and Luke Shiplo had good bids, but Huska kept the door closed.
“We did a great job killing the five-minute major,” Cavanaugh said. “We rebounded pretty well and they didn’t get a whole lot on it (the penalty).”
The best UConn chance of the period came on the kill with Thompson setting up Ben Freeman for two whacks, but Truehl stayed steady on both.
The Bobcats stayed on the puck deep in the UConn end after the Huskies won the draw. The Bobcats’ Davidson got to the loose puck, controlled it and put in into the front of the net. Craig Martin fanned on his first shot but stayed with it and while falling down, he got his stick on the puck and flipped it over Huska’s left shoulder for the 2-0 lead.
“The biggest problem we had was breaking the puck out of the zone. That was our biggest issue and we wound up giving them (chances). When that happens, they get riding time in the offensive zone and we get tired playing defense and can’t get any energy to create any offense,” remarked Cavanaugh.
Very classy gesture initiated by Pecknold. Both teams gathered at center ice after the game in honor of Bruce Marshall. The former UConn head coach who was close to Pecknold passed away suddenly in New Hampshire on Sunday.
Letunov with the game disqualification will be suspended for the game on Friday against AIC at the XL Center. He could face further discipline from Hockey East.
Quinnipiac is now 3-1-0 and was coming off a 3-2 OT win over Maine in Orono.
UConn came (2-1-2) off a pair of ties last weekend 4-4 against Colgate and 1-1 with AHA member R.I.T.
Huska was big in the R.I.T. game, his first collegiate start with 36 saves. He was stellar last season with Green Bay (USHL). Huska led the league with a 1.97 GAA and played for the Slovakia World Junior team where he put on a show in a memorable 48 save performance against Russia and another against the Czech Republic.
Thompson with four goals and six points paces the offense for UConn.
Quinnipiac lost a significant number of their NCAA Finalist squad.
Quinnipiac now leads the series with UConn 17-11-2. The Bobcats have won the first three major D1 meetings. They won this one 5-2, in 2014 they prevailed 4-1 and last year there was a wild, feisty 6-2 game at the XL Center with four powerplay goals.
Quinnipiac features four players from Alberta and five who played junior hockey in BC and Alberta.
Quinnipiac has had college hockey for 41 years and is in their 19th season of Division I.
College recruiting notes: UCONN got a commit next year from Zac Robbins who plays currently with Cedar Rapids (USHL).
UConn got a commitment for next year from Zac Robbins who plays currently with Cedar Rapids (USHL).
Quinnipiac got a future recruit for 2020-21 in Paul Fletcher out of the Dallas Stars Triple AAA program, who will play at Selects Academy program at South Kent Prep this winter.
Yale has secured a commitment for next season from Greenwich native Phil Kemp who is currently with the USNDTP (USHL). Kemp went to Brunswick Prep school and has a good shot of being on the US WJC team for the tourney to be held starting Boxing Day in Montreal and Toronto. He withdrew his commitment from Brown University and, according to Chip Malafronte of the New Haven Register, is a third generation Yale athlete. His grandfather played with President George H.W. Bush in late 1940’s on the Yale baseball team.
Matt Tugnutt, son of former NHL’er Ron Tugnutt, has committed to Sacred Heart University next fall. He currently plays for Kemptville (OJHL).