December, always a short month for any college hockey team due to a break for the finals. For the Huskies, the month of December was extra short, playing only three games in the month, thanks to a 23 day break. Still, in only three games, the Huskies continued to show improvement and become a tougher team to beat.
The Huskies played their first game of the month, and last before the break, at the #7 UMass Lowell River Hawks, in a conference match-up. The nationally-ranked River Hawks quickly took the lead not even six minutes into the game. When Evan Richardson was charged a penalty, UMass Lowell got the game’s first power-play, and scored just five seconds into it. The River Hawks won the faceoff, and dropped a pass to UMass Lowell player Dylan Zink, who blasted it home by Rob Nichols. The River Hawks scored again just five minutes later when a slap-shot through traffic found the back of the net to make it 2-0. The Huskies cut the lead in half, getting their first goal of the game on the power-play not even five minutes after UMass Lowell’s second goal. Joona Kunnas recieved a pass from Jesse Schwartz and passed the puck to Jacob Poe who let a slap-shot go, which found the back of the net to make it 2-1. UMass Lowell led 13-7 in shots at the end of the period. In the second the River Hawks made it 3-1 with a little more than six minutes left in the period. The Huskies would quickly respond however, with a power-play goal. UMass Lowell tried to clear the zone but Joona Kunnas stopped the puck at the blue-line and fired a wrist-shot past the River Hawk netminder to make it 3-2. But just over a minute later UMass Lowell scored again to make it 4-2, cleaning up a rebound off a slap-shot at the left post. Overall, the River Hawks controlled play in the period and out-shot the Huskies in the period 11-4.
The third period was even more wild. The River Hawks extended their lead to three early in the third period. River Hawk Evan Campbell picked off a UConn pass in the neutral zone during a Husky power-play. He then skated in on Rob Nichols and blasted a shot by Nichols to make it 5-2. But the Huskies started to climb back into the game. Just over five minutes after the River Hawks’ fifth goal, the Huskies made it 5-3, as Evan Richardson deflected home a Joona Kunnas shot at the left post. Then five minutes later, the Huskies scored again, making it a 5-4 game, on a goal by Trevor Gerling, his team-leading fifth of the year, off a pass from Shawn Pauly. Unfortunately, the River Hawks sealed the game with 11 seconds to go on an empty-net goal, handing the Huskies the 6-4 loss to head into the break. For the game, UMass Lowell out-shot UConn 33-24; Rob Nichols made 27 saves on the night. The Huskies scored two power-play goals on five power-play chances, but did allow UMass Lowell to score on their only power-play and allowed a shorthanded goal. Still the game overall was an improvement for UConn’s offense and power-play, scoring four goals, and two power-play goals on the game.
23 days later, UConn returned to action to take on the defending national champions Union, in game two of the Frozen Holiday Classic, which was being played at UConn’s secondary home, the Webster Bank Arena. In game one UMass Lowell and Sacred Heart faced off. UMass Lowell would score three third period goals to break open a close game, and skate to a 5-1 win over the pioneers. Then UConn and Union faced off. The Huskies played magnificently in the first, outshooting Union 14-12 in the period and would take a 1-0 lead before the period was over. Patrick Kirtland got the puck out of the UConn end, with a pass up to Jacob Poe in the neutral zone. Poe then carried the puck into the Union end and centered a pass back to Kirtland who buried the goal on a wrist shot by Union netminder Colin Stevens. The second was controlled by Union though. They outshot UConn in the frame 16-11, and won the special teams battle scoring two power-play goals on two chances, while holding UConn scoreless on their only power-play of the period. Both these Union power-play goals came back-to-back, in a span of just 1:09, putting Union up 2-1. It looked like UConn wouldn’t be able to tie it, as Stevens kept making great saves on Husky chances, but the Huskies found the back of the net when senior captain Ryan Tyson created a turnover deep in the Union zone. He then passed the puck up to Joey Ferriss just inside the blue-line. Ferriss then sent a pass to the charging Cody Sharib, who back-handed the puck by Stevens, to knot the game up at two heading into the third.
The third period was fairly even. The shot clock was tied at 11 shots apiece at the end of the period, but the difference was the Huskies applied strong forcheck and pressure on Union, resulting in a goal. Corey Ronan created a turnover behind the Union net, and got a pass off to Kasperi Ojantakanen at the left circle. Ojantakanen then sent a pass across to Spencer Naas who fired a shot by Stevens to give the Huskies the 3-2 lead. The Huskies would continue pressuring Union and would hold on for the 3-2 win, to advance to the title game of the Frozen Holiday Classic, to play UMass Lowell for the second time of the month and in three games. The win was probably the most complete game the Huskies had played all season, as was obvious from defeating the defending national champions in their first game back from the break, while also firing a season high 36 shots. The game was played in front of a crowd of 3570 people.
The next day Sacred Heart took on Union in the Consolation game for third-place. The game was tied 1-1 until late in the third period, when with under three minutes to go, Union scored on a break-away to take the 2-1 lead, and would go on to win 3-1 and claim third-place in the Frozen Holiday Classic. Later that night, UConn took on UMass Lowell for the championship game. The first period was fairly even, with both teams getting off plenty of shots and scoring chances, and both playing fast-paced hockey. Despite this, the River Hawks led in shots 14-9 in the period, and scored a goal late in the period to take the lead. The River Hawks carried the puck just over the blue-line, before a pass would be dropped to River Hawk Dylan Zink as he crossed the blue-line, who would get a wrist-shot by Rob Nichols through traffic to give the River Hawks a 1-0 lead after one period. The Huskies’ greatest chance of the period was when Corey Ronan sped up the right boards through the neutral zone and into the River Hawk end and then sent a pass across the ice to Spencer Naas, but Naas fired the puck just wide of the net.
The second period was uneventful with no goals being scored by either team. The Huskies got the only power-play of the period and of the game and got a few shots on goal but couldn’t score. Despite UConn having the only power-play, UMass Lowell still led in shots in the period 15-8. At the end of the second, the River Hawks still led 1-0. The third was also uneventful until the end of the period. The River Hawks got loose on a 2-on-1 breakaway, and Corey Ronan tried to recover. River Hawk Fallon tried to get a pass across to River Hawk Colantone but Ronan got a piece of the pass deflecting it into the air but Colantone deflected the pass out of the air off the post and behind Nichols to give the River Hawks the 2-0 lead with under four minutes to go. The River Hawks then sealed the deal with an empty-net goal with just over a minute to go to make it 3-0. But the Huskies wouldn’t be shutout. Ryan Tyson won the faceoff and passed the puck back to David Drake who fired a shot on goal. River Hawk goalie gave up a huge rebound to which Cody Sharib cleaned up and put home with 13 seconds left in the game, to make the final score 3-1. UConn was outshot in the game 38-24, as they claimed second place in the inaugural Frozen Holiday Classic with UMass Lowell claiming the title. Jacob Poe and Spencer Naas represented UConn on the all-tournament team. The game was played in front of a surprisingly small crowd of 1483 people.
In the month of December, the Huskies went 1-2, pushing their overall record to 4-9-4, and their conference record to 2-4-1. The month was short but saw something very important improved for UConn, and that was their offense. Before this month, UConn had, on average, scored only 1.57 goals a game one of the lowest averages in the nation. However, in December they averaged 3 goals a game, which was what they needed, as combined with their stingy defense, they used their new-found offense to play two close games with UMass Lowell and knock off the defending national champions, Union, and claim second place in the Frozen Holiday Classic. That was definitely the major improvement for UConn in December.
A final side-note is that the month of December proved something else. UConn should be playing all their home games at the XL Center, and not playing a third of them at the Webster Bank Arena. First, the XL Center provides a better home for the Huskies and it is their true home. It is closer to UConn, ensuring that more students, a lot more will come to the games, making team spirit higher at the XL Center. Also, the Huskies have built a large fanbase with the XL Center as their home; they average almost 6200 fans a game, and have drawn almost 25,000 fans total in just 4 games as the XL Center. Now let’s take a look at the Webster Bank Arena. It is far away from UConn, and it is in Bridgeport, to say the least. Thus not many students show up and UConn’s fanbase in Brideport is obviously small and limited compared to their fanbase in Hartford. Reflecting this is the fact that they average only about 2200 fans a game in Bridgeport, and have only drawn a total of roughly 6500 fans in three games there. When you look at the facts, it is clear that UConn should move all home games to the XL Center.
What do think? Should UConn play all home games at the XL Center or continue to play some at the Webster Bank Arena as well? Leave a comment above!