Men's Hockey: UConn splits with Bentley, remains third in AHA
For the second straight week, the UConn men's hockey team won a crucial, potentially momentum-building game to start a weekend series on Friday, only to falter on Saturday.
The Huskies (14-9-4, 12-6-3 Atlantic Hockey) started the weekend strong, posting a 3-0 win over Bentley at the Freitas Ice Forum in Storrs. But after UConn's first shutout since March 2013, the Falcons responded with a convincing 4-1 win in Watertown, Mass. Saturday night.
With a split against Bentley, UConn remains in third place in the Atlantic Hockey Association with 27 points - Bentley remains in second with 28. However, Air Force's sweep against first-place Mercyhurst moves them into a tie for third with the Huskies.
UConn's loss Saturday means that the Huskies will drop the season series against Bentley, with the Falcons winning two of the three matchup during the season.
"Through my experiences when you get towards the end of the year it always comes down to a point or two," UConn coach Mike Cavanaugh said. "If you have that tiebreaker, it can be really influential in where your seeding is at the end of the season."
UConn started the weekend as well as Cavanaugh could have possibly hoped. About one minute into Friday's game, the Huskies' line of Jordan Sims, Trevor Gerling and Brant Harris jumped on the ice and immediately put pressure on Bentley in the offensive zone.
The puck ended up on Sims' stick, and after three quick chances were stopped by Falcons' goaltender Branden Komm, Sims finally put in his seventh goal of the season.
"I just wanted to shoot everything," Sims said. "I've been told to shoot a little more, so I wanted to get pucks to the net and get to the net, play on the inside which we talked about too all week, not playing on the outside. That's how the result of the first goal was, just off me somehow."
Harris sent UConn into the first intermission with a 2-0 lead when he took a pass from Billy Latta, who was wrapping around the net, and tapped in the power play goal as Komm continued to follow Latta.
Sims recorded the secondary assist on the goal, bringing his career point total to 99. With the goal, Harris moved into a tie with former Huskies Sean Ambrosie and Matt Scherer for second on UConn's all-time Division I scoring list with 105 points.
Freshman Brent Norris made it 3-0 in favor of the Huskies early in the second period with a shot that slipped through a Bentley defender and caught Komm off guard.
UConn had little issue securing its first shutout of the season, a defensive effort anchored by freshman goaltender Robby Nichols, who made 28 saves to improve to 5-0-2 in his first season with the Huskies.
"I think I was feeling about the same as any game," Nichols said. "Coach said it, it doesn't bother me what the score is. What matters most at the end of the night to us and also to myself is a win. The two points is huge, regardless of the score."
Cavanaugh stuck with Nichols in the net Saturday night in place of senior Matt Grogan, opting to go with the hot hand. Things went cold quickly, however, as the Falcons struck for three goals in the opening period in Watertown, resulting in Nichols being benched in place of Grogan.
UConn had plenty of opportunities to strike back on Saturday, especially with Bentley offering up six power play chances. Normally one of the most successful power play units in the nation, the Huskies fell out of the top 10 in success rate with a 0 for 6 showing with a man advantage.
Trevor Gerling scored two minutes into the third period, but UConn was unable to climb back into the game. Bentley's Max French put the puck into an open net to seal a 4-1 win for the Falcons to put them back in second place.
Before a pivotal weekend series with Holy Cross, UConn will play its last nonconference game of the season Tuesday night, when the Huskies head to Schneider Arena to take on No. 12 Providence, who UConn will join in Hockey East next season.
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