UConn tops Notre Dame in first of two-game series
Zach Klonsinski | Friday, October 28, 2016
The ice tilted in No. 7 Notre Dame’s favor almost all game, but there just wasn’t enough home-ice luck to be found at Compton Family Ice Arena on Thursday night.
UConn freshman goaltender Adam Huska turned away 47 of the 49 Notre Dame shots he faced, and the Huskies (3-1-3, 1-0-0 Hockey East) benefitted from a couple odd bounces to hang on for a 4-2 victory.
“We were opportunistic tonight,” UConn head coach Mike Cavanaugh said. “I thought the one power play we had was outstanding. I thought we moved it really well, and we got rewarded for it with a goal.”
“It’s not like we didn’t have chances to score,” Irish head coach Jeff Jackson said. “You gotta give their goaltender credit of course, but we’ve got to bear down on our chances and make sure that we’ve got people at the net for potential rebounds.
“I thought [Huska] was really good. That’s two weeks in a row we’ve seen really good freshman goaltenders.”
The Irish (3-3-1, 0-1-0) jumped out to an early start. Notre Dame held UConn without a shot for the first eight minutes of action while putting up six of its own.
Despite controlling the pace of play for much of the first period though, the Irish couldn’t sneak one past the Slovakian wall in front of the UConn net.
UConn made the most of its opportunities, too.
Huskies freshman forward Justin Howell tipped a shot past Irish junior netminder Cal Petersen off a faceoff with under five minutes remaining in the opening period. Just 1:57 later, Petersen got most of a cross-ice one-timer from Huskies sophomore forward Maxim Letunov, but the puck went high in the air over his head and trickled just over the goal line to push the Huskies’ lead to 2-0 after the first 20 minutes.
“The second [goal] was just a weird bounce that guys just got drained from because we were controlling the play for most of the first, and when you get that, as a leader especially, you gotta keep the bench positive,” Irish junior forward Jake Evans said. “You gotta know that it’s so early in the game and you’re playing well, you’re playing focused. You don’t want guys wanting to make the extra move, to play risky. You just want to stick with it, and I think we did a pretty good job of that.”
Notre Dame responded by dominating the second period, outshooting UConn 21-5. Irish freshman defenseman Tory Dello finally solved Huska, blasting home his first career collegiate tally over the Slovak’s glove.
The Irish kept the momentum rolling into the third period, but Huska continued his stellar performance. Just over seven minutes into the period, a centering feed from Huskies sophomore forward Karl El-Mir took an odd carom off a defender and over Petersen’s shoulder to push the Huskies back in front by two.
“Couple bounces didn’t go our way,” Evans said. “One of them was a block off our guy and went over Cal, and then I think the game-winner was off a skate, so those bounces kind of drained us a bit. But all-in-all, I think we had a pretty good game. I think guys were moving. Guys were staying focused.
“We ran into a hot goalie, and when you run into a hot goalie, you gotta get to the net and make sure he doesn’t see it or not even give him a chance. … I think we had a lot of opportunities to score too, so tomorrow we’re going to have to bear down on those.”
Evans found a loose puck on an odd-man rush and slapped it past Huska to bring the Irish within one with just under seven minutes remaining in regulation, but an empty-net goal by Letunov sealed the victory for UConn.
Notre Dame finished 0-for-6 in the power play on the night, but it wasn’t for a lack of quality scoring chances. The Irish peppered Huska with 15 shots on those six-man-advantage opportunities.
“They put a lot of pressure penalty kill early on,” Jackson said. “But I think it’s probably the fact that we were getting chances — we were getting quite a few good looks on the power play and didn’t finish — but their penalty killing got more conservative later in the game, where they weren’t as aggressive, and obviously you’ve gotta shoot the puck in those situations. You can’t pass it around the perimeter the whole time.”
“I’ll give them credit, they blocked probably 20, 30 shots tonight,” Evans said. “They did a great job on that. At the end of the game, I think they wanted it more. They blocked shots, they chipped pucks out and we made a couple more turnovers.
“ … They capitalized on their chances and we didn’t, and that’s the big story.”
Notre Dame and UConn take to the ice for the series finale Friday night at Compton Family Ice Arena. Puck drop is at 7:35 p.m.