Men's Hockey Notebook: Goals by Kirtland and Latta help UConn pull off upset
PROVIDENCE, R.I. - It's one of the most used buzzwords in the game for a reason. In hockey, momentum is everything.
With 18:27 left in the second period, after Patrick Kirtland fired home a point shot for the go-ahead goal and a lead over No. 9 Providence, the Huskies certainly had plenty of it. Once Billy Latta slotted home a breakaway attempt with 7:16 left in the third period to make it 3-1, they were brimming with it.
The signs were evident - starting with Ryan Tyson's equalizer late in the first period, UConn began tilting the ice in their favor, leveling out the play after being dominated for much of the opening 17 minutes.
"That was huge," UConn head coach Mike Cavanugh said. "Instead of going into that locker room down 1-0, we were 1-1. And no matter what you say, even if you're playing well, if you're down 1-0 there's still that feeling like, 'We've got to get back in this game.'"
Those good feelings, plus an added aura of belief, helped fuel a program-best win for UConn, its first against a top-10 team and just its second ever against a ranked opponent. Simply put, it was a marquee moment for the soon-to-be Hockey East addition, on the road against a Hockey East opponent, and the first-year coach.
"It was a great opportunity," Cavanaugh said. "A lot of people were asking, 'Why are you playing this game down the stretch in February, a midweek game?' Because it was the next game on the schedule. So be excited. Would you rather practice today or do you want to go out and play the Friars. To their credit, they played very well."
In the midst of it all, the Huskies were still prone to spells under siege, to be sure, but they were also capable of generating offense, sustaining some pressure and getting a few looks on the rush.
And during those long spells stuck in their own defensive end, senior goalie Matt Grogan was equal to the task. Fifty-eight saves with just two blemishes - an early power-play goal on a deflection by Friars' leading scorer Ross Mauermann - did enough to hold onto his team's emotional and mental edge.
Those shots that Grogan didn't get, the defense in front of him did. UConn blocked 19 shots on the night and excelled at clearing rebounds out of the slot and away from opportunistic Providence sticks.
"I told some of our guys, if you have the chance to block it, block it," Grogan said, "because they had a couple big guys right in front of me. So I remember a couple of blocks that definitely changed the game."
"We talk about having a faceless opponent," Latta said. "Blocking shots is part of the game. Good teams do that."
Now it's up to the Huskies to continue to do it over the season's final three weekends. With six games left on the regular season schedule - series against Holy Cross, Army and Sacred Heart, the bottom three teams in Atlantic Hockey - they sit tied for third and just three points behind league-leading Mercyhurst.
In order to leapfrog a few teams and claim another program first - a league title - UConn is going to need momentum. But they'll have to create some more of it come Friday night.
"Certainly, now our guys believe we can play with anybody - you know, this is a top-10 team - that we can play with anybody in the country," Cavanaigh said. "That being said, it doesn't do anything to help us beat Holy Cross. We have to come out and have that same type of intensity.
"We have to be mentally ready, we have to be physically ready, we have to be together as a club if that's going to parlay into Holy Cross."
For now, though, they'll have a little bit of a break to rest up, recover and enjoy.
"It was the first time that UConn's beaten a top-10 team," Latta, a senior, said. "Last year we had a chance against Quinnipiac and fell short by a goal. Yeah, I'm sure in a couple months looking back it'll be nice. But like Coach said, there's 24 hours to think about it and then move on."
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