Huskies defeat Nittany Lions in a big win
The UConn men's hockey team picked up an impressive nonconference win Friday night, defeating Penn State 4-3 at the Freitas Ice Forum in the first game of a two-game weekend series.
The Huskies (6-8-2, 4-6-1 AHA) were looking to build off of their impressive performance at the UConn Classic, where they defeated AHA rival American International 7-2 and then made No. 18 Minnesota State fight for a 3-1 victory.
Senior Matt Grogan made his third consecutive start for the Huskies because of Garret Bartus' academic issues, and Grogan was playing in his fifth consecutive game. Grogan finished the night with 39 saves on 42 shots. In his five games, he now has a .944 save percentage through about 234 minutes of play.
The physical nature of the game saw Grogan get knocked into his own net on several occasions, and he had to fight to get the puck covered up whenever Penn State got near the crease. Having played so little until recently, it was difficult to deal with, but the senior still put his team in line to win.
"It's tough because I'm smaller, so I have to get closer to the screens, and they're bigger guys," Grogan said.
Grogan's teammates and coaching staff were impressed with his play.
"Matt played great," Interim Head Coach David Berard said. "He has been tremendous all year in practice. He's a great teammate. He does everything we ask. His perseverance and his attitude and the way he has prepared himself for these opportunities."
Bartus will return to the net for the Huskies tomorrow night, but Berard hinted towards the possibility of the two goaltenders splitting time throughout the remainder of the season.
"I think we'll see him," Berard said. I guess we'll wait and see if it's going to be a 50-50 split the rest of the year. I think what it does is it gives us flexibility. Now that Grogs has broken through and has gotten chance to play, we have confidence and the guys have total confidence. We're really happy with where he is."
Berard sent his No. 1 offensive and defensive lines out for the opening face-off to put the pressure on the Nittany Lions from the start. The move paid off as Sean Ambrosie and Brant Harris set up Jordan Sims for a snipe from the left circle that popped the water bottle of Matthew Skoff's goal 28 seconds into the game to give the Huskies a 1-0 lead.
Penn State went on the power play less than six minutes later when Chris Bond was called for roughing. On the ensuing power play, David Glen got his team-leading ninth goal for the Nittany Lions when his shot from the left deflected off a UConn skater and past the helpless Grogan.
Penn State had the better of the play from that point on as they ended the first period with a 12-6 advantage on shots.
The Nittany Lions got out in front early in the second period when Taylor Holstrom got right in on Grogan and slipped the puck underneath the goaltender to put Penn State up 2-1 less than three minutes in.
Six minutes later, UConn pulled the game back to 2-2 when Brant Harris slipped the puck past Skoff from behind the net for his fourth goal of the season.
One minute later, Shawn Pauly scored his first career goal on a rebound after Evan Carriere's breakaway attempt was pushed aside by Skoff. He left the left side of the net vulnerable and Pauly connected as he was falling to the ice.
Penn State evened the game once again four minutes later when Connor Varley fired a laser from the far edge of the right circle that squeaked through the traffic in front of the net and deflected off the top of a skate past Grogan to make it 3-3, which was the score going into the third period.
The physical nature of the game continued into the third period. The two teams were constantly locked up with each other, and on many occasions, players decided to carry the puck themselves from end to end, often resulting in chaos when they finally attempted to put a shot on goal.
UConn went back ahead six and half minutes into the final period as Patrick Kirtland basically dumped the puck towards goal, fooling Skoff into thinking he was passing. Kirtland's second goal of the year put UConn up 4-3.
"Originally I was looking for [Brad Smith], he was open in the slot," Kirtland said. "I've been getting harped on about shooting all year, so I shot it, and it just went in."
The rest of the period had the typical back and forth nature the game had had all night, with both sides getting their chances.
Penn State went to six skaters with 1:50 left in the game and had multiple chances, with Grogan basically standing on his head at the end. However, they were unable to find the net and UConn picked up its sixth win of the year.
Despite the win, Berard was not overly impressed with the performance, but said that to him, a win is a win.
"I'd rather win ugly than lose pretty," Berard said.
UConn is no stranger to physical games, and Berard sees these physical nonconference games as important for the team.
"I knew we were going to have [a tough game] because they play really aggressively and they get after the puck," Berard said. I don't believe that we handled the pressure too well, and we made a lot of uncharacteristically poor decisions with the puck."
A key to UConn's success was their ability to block shots. The Huskies blocked a total of 24 shots on Friday night.
"I think in the third period, we did all the little things that made a difference, and in a lot of cases that was blocking shots," Berard said. If that's what you have to do to win the game, then you gotta be willing to do it. Guys did and that's why we pulled the win out at the end."
Berard said that he will evaluate the game tape to determine what changes he will make to the lineup for Saturday, but did insinuate that changes are coming, citing the advantage of it being a nonconference game, which allows him to play with the lineup more.
UConn and Penn State will play again on Saturday night at the Freitas Ice Forum. Face-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.
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