Men's Hockey: UConn splits with Army, remains third in AHA
Published: Sunday, February 23, 2014
Updated: Sunday, February 23, 2014 22:02
The UConn men’s hockey team split its weekend series for the second time in as many weeks, falling to Army 4-3 in its final home game of the season on Friday before salvaging two points on Saturday with a 3-1 win in West Point, N.Y. — a game in which senior forward Brant Harris broke the program’s Division I scoring record.
The Huskies (17-11-4, 14-8-3 AHA) are now tied with Air Force for third place in Atlantic Hockey with 31 points, one point behind second-place Bentley and one point ahead of fourth-place Robert Morris. The team wraps up its regular season schedule this weekend with a two-game road series against Sacred Heart in its Milford, Conn arena.
UConn got out to a blazing start offensively on Friday night, scoring two goals in what was perhaps its best opening half of a period this season. Freshman center Brent Norris struck first for the Huskies, blasting a shot high to the blocker side of Army goaltender Parker Gahagen off of a feed from sophomore wing Patrick Kirtland six-and-a-half minutes in to give his team a 1-0 advantage.
Sophomore center Shawn Pauly followed up Norris’ marker with one of his own just five minutes later, extending the UConn lead to two goals with assists from senior right wing Billy Latta and junior left wing Cody Sharib.
“We started the game really well,” head coach Mike Cavanaugh said. “We haven’t started many games like that, getting out of the gate and scoring two goals in the first 11 minutes.”
The Huskies’ momentum was quickly extinguished, however, by an Army goal at the 12:28 mark of the first stanza. Black Knights forward Kyle Vogel threw the puck on UConn goaltender Matt Grogan from the edge of the blue line and caught him napping, bringing the Black Knights back to within one.
“They kind of got a fluke goal,” Cavanaugh said. “It was kind of a knuckleball that went in, and I thought it deflated our bench a little bit.”
Army scored again just three-and-a-half minutes later, potting a powerplay goal against a normally stingy UConn penalty killing unit in the waning minutes of the period, pushing the game to a 2-2 tie heading into the first intermission.
After seven minutes of play in the second stanza, the Black Knights broke through again, scoring a goal at the 7:17 mark to take a 3-2 lead — their first of the night.
The Huskies were able to pull back to even four minutes later with a score from junior winger Trevor Gerling, sliding the puck past Gahagen — who was distracted by a bevy of traffic in front of the net — to tie the game 3-3.
UConn — despite receiving an excellent chance to build on Gerling’s goal in the form of a five-minute major penalty — was unable to capitalize again in the second, kept at bay by the hardworking Army penalty killers who exterminated a prime opportunity for the Huskies to take a late-period lead.
“We played a pretty good period in the second period, we only gave up six shots, but one of those was an empty net, we didn’t pick a guy up on the back check,” Cavanaugh said. “We threw a lot at their net, Trevor’s goal was a great goal I loved the traffic in front.
“We had a five-minute major and we didn’t capitalize, we had another couple of powerplays where we didn’t capitalize, and that was probably the game tonight.”
The Black Knights sealed their victory with a powerplay goal — their second — early in the third period, taking a 4-3 lead that would prove insurmountable for the Huskies, who pulled Grogan in the final seconds of the stanza but were unable to convert six-on-five.
UConn finished the game having outshot Army 45-27, but the tale of the game was written on special teams, where the Huskies posted an uncharacteristic performance — allowing two powerplay goals and finishing 0-for-3 on the man advantage.
“You can dominate a team 45-27, but if your special teams aren’t good, and you make one mistake and give them a couple of easy goals, it’s going to be hard to win,” Cavanaugh said. “If you lose the special teams game 2-0, it’s really hard to win, and that was the case tonight.”
Showing the same brand of resilience they exhibited last week against Holy Cross, the Huskies avenged their loss on Friday night by capturing a win on Saturday, defeating the Black Knights 3-1 on the road.
Brant Harris, who had two assists in the game, surpassed former UConn forward Cole Koidahl to become the program’s all-time leading scorer in the Division I era. Koidahl’s mark had been set at 107 career points.
Goal scorers for the Huskies in Saturday’s victory were freshman center Shawn Gaffney, Norris and Kirtland, who punched in an empty net goal with two seconds remaining in regulation to lock up the win.
Freshman goaltender Robby Nichols drew the start for UConn, making 27 saves on 28 shots and improving his already outstanding record to 7-1-2 on the season.
The Huskies return to action on Friday night against Sacred Heart at the Milford Ice Pavilion.