The month of January, when the playoff race begins for college hockey. January was yet again another month that saw UConn greatly improve, become more competitive in Hockey East, and become a stronger hockey program. January also showed that although they are Hockey East’s newest member, they are going to be active in the playoff race, and not the dead-last team they were expected to be.
UConn’s first game in the month of January was a conference match-up on the road, at the UMass Minutemen. UConn struck first, 10:45 into the game. Brent Norris dumped the puck into the UMass zone and Jesse Schwartz collected the puck along the right boards. He fed a pass back to Brent Norris behind the net, who then centered a pass in front of the net to Spencer Naas who fired the puck past UMass goaltender Steve Masteralez to make it 1-0 Huskies. Just over four minutes later, the Huskies built on to their lead. Shawn Pauly skated in on goal and fired a shot to which Masteralez gave up a big rebound. Trevor Gerling was there at the left post waiting for the rebound where he shot the puck twice before chipping it in to give UConn the 2-0 lead, the score that it would be at the end of the period. The Huskies led the shot clock in the period 14-12 despite UMass getting two power-plays in teh period while the Huskies only got one man-advantage.
The second period was, unlike the first, wasn’t all UConn. The shot clock was even at eleven shots apiece, and the Minutemen got the only goal of the period to cut the Huskies lead to 2-1, when Minuteman Shane Walsh got a backhanded shot by Rob Nichols. The only the same in this period as the first period was UMass had two power-plays while the Huskies again only had one. The Huskies were able to draw a UMass penalty with just four seconds remaining though as Trevor Gerling drew a high-sticking penalty after a short-handed breakway. He made UMass pay, as he scored his goal of the game with a goal with one second left on the power-play and not even two minutes into the third. This put UConn into a comfortable 3-1 lead over the last-place Minutemen.
The Minutemen weren’t going to be beaten so easily though. The Minutemen made it a 3-2 game just over two minutes later, scoring off a rebound. Then 9:01 into the third period, they tied the game up at 3-3. The Minutemen got their fifth power-play of the night and fired a shot from the blue-line that went top-shelf by Nichols. The Huskies were now in a good position to panic they had just blown a two-goal lead against the last place team in the third, in a game that was necessary to win and now it looked like they might lose it.
The Huskies didn’t panic though and that was the difference-maker, as they found the go-ahead goal at the 13:55 mark to back the lead making it 4-3. Spencer Naas took a pass from Jacob Poe off the boards and sped into the Minutemen zone, and fired a shot from a sharp angle that somehow got by Masteralez for a goal. The Huskies killed off another UMass power-play in the closing minutes to hang on for the 4-3 victory over UMass. Trevor Gerling and Spencer Naas each scored two goals in the game and Shawn Pauly got two assists. For the game, UConn out-shot UMass 39-36, firing a season-high in shots on goal. The win was big for the standings, as the Huskies pulled back in front of Northeastern by a point to reclaim eighth place in Hockey East.
Only four days later, on January 6, the Huskies played a home game at the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, against non-conference foe the Collorado College Tigers. These two teams had never played each other before. The Tigers would be the ones to strike first. The Tigers earned a power-play after Cody Sharib was called for high-sticking. Rob Nichols tried to clear the puck, but the Tigers kept the puck in. Zach Aman recieved a pass and fired a shot on goal and the rebound came right ot Charlie Taft who buried it in the empty side by the left post, to put the Tigers up 1-0 late in the period. But it took the Huskies just 18 seconds after the ensuing faceoff to return the favor. Kasperi Ojankaten cleared the puck into neutral ice to Corey Ronan after UConn won the center ice faceoff. Ronan laid a pass up to Spencer Naas who beat his defender, walked in on goal and beat Tiger goalie Tyler Marble on the backhand to knot the game up 1-1 to head into the first intermission. The Huskies were out-shot 13-9 in the first 20 minutes of play.
In the second, the Tigers once again carried play out-shooting the Huskies 12-5. This strong play resulted in another goal for Colorado College, yet again on the power-play. A slap-shot from the blue-line got tipped home by Rob Nichols to put the Tigers up 2-1, 8:43 into the second period. In the third, play was even with the shot clock even at 10-10. It was a physical period, with UConn getting three power-plays and the Tigers getting two. This was the Huskies downfall though. The Tigers got their third power-play goal of the night, blasting home a slap-shot from the blue-line that got by Nichols through traffic to make it 3-1, with three seconds left on the power-play. The Tigers added insurance, banging home a rebound in front with just under three minutes left in the game to make the final score 4-1. The Huskies were out-shot in the game 35-24. Rob Nichols had 30 or more saves for the 10th time this season with 31. Ultimately, it was the special teams that made UConn fall 4-1 in front of a crowd of 3417 at the Webster Bank Arena, as they went 0-for-6 on the power-play while giving up three power-play goals.
Three days later the Huskies traveled to West Point, New York, to play their former AHA rival, the Army Black Nights. The game was to be UConn’s last non-conference game of the season. The Huskies were only 1-for-16 in their last four games on the power-play but they capitalized on their first man-advantage of the game. Evan Richardson took a pass from Shawn Pauly, and made a nice deke around an Army defender, and fired a shot past Army goalie Cole Bruns to put UConn up 1-0 early in the first. UConn again scored on the power-play, this time late in the first with under three minutes remaining in the period. Kasperi Ojankaten blasted a shot on goal that was padded away by Burns only for Jesse Schwartz to tap home the rebound to put UConn up 2-0 after one period. The Huskies out-shot Army 12-6 in the frame.
In the second period, the Huskies continued to pepper Army with both goals and shots. Ryan Segella took a pass at the blue-line and blasted a shot through traffic, putting the Huskies up 3-0, 5:38 into the period. It was Segella’s first goal of the year. The Huskies then extended their lead to 4-0 just 39 seconds later. Brent Norris fed a pass up to Jesse Schwartz who then fed it back to Brent Norris who blasted the puck by Bruns for the four-goal lead. Army, with that goal, pulled Bruns and replaced with Parker Gahagen who kept the Huskies from scoring the rest of the period. The wild second peirod continued with Army getting their first goal of the night just 43 seconds after UConn made it 4-0. A Black Knights player picked up a loose puck off a blocked shot by a Husky player a fired a shot by the Husky netminder to make it 4-1. The Black Knights capitalized again late in the period, this time on the power-play. A wrap-around attempt was denied by UConn, but the rebound squirted out to the left circle, where Army player Joe Kozlak collected the puck, spun and fired it home to make it a 4-2 Husky lead heading into the third. The Huskies dominated the shot clock in the second period leading Army in shots 20-10.
Nearly half-way through the third, Army scored yet again. An Army player found a loose puck behind the UConn net and sent a pass in front to Black Knight player Tyler Pham to cut the Husky lead to 4-3. Now the Huskies were in trouble. They had a 4-0 lead reduced to 4-3, now in the third, after a Army rally of three straight goals. But the Huskies would have no more of Army. Kasperi Ojankatanen carried the puck behind the Army net and fed a pass in front to Corey Ronan who buried a one-timer top shelf to make it 5-3 and end the Army rally. Army then pulled the goalie with just over two minutes to go but Ryan Tyson cleared the zone to Joey Ferriss and Ferriss got the puck up to Spencer Naas who shot a backhanded shot off from inside the blue-line for the enpty-net goal to make the final score 6-3. Naas’ goal was his team-leading eighth on the season and extended his scoring streak to five games. Senior Tom Communale got his first career start in goal, making 26 saves for his first career win. On the night the Huskies out-shot Army 44-29.
The next day the Huskies returned home for the first time in nearly two months, as they took on the #6 ranked UMass Lowell Riverhawks at home at the XL Center in a crucial Hockey East conference game for the Huskies. The first was fast-paced but no goals were scored. Both teams had a power-play but both failed to score on their man-advantage. UConn’s power-play was five minutes long off a boarding call against the River Hawks, but the Huskies couldn’t even get a shot on goal. Still, UConn came out flying and out-shot UMass Lowell in the first, 11-4. In the second period, at the 9:18 mark of the period, the Huskies got their second power-play of the game, and this time they capitalized on their chance. Shawn Pauly passed the puck to Jacob Poe at the blue-line who fired a shot through traffic and past River Hawk goalie Kevin Boyle to put the Huskies up 1-0. Play stayed even the rest of the period as the shot-clock was tied at 7-7 in the period, and the Huskies retained the 1-0 lead heading into the third. In the third, the River Hawks maintained strong offensive pressure but couldn’t crack Nichols. Then the Huskies sealed it. With under two minutes to go, Trevor Gerling shot the puck along the boards to Spencer Naas. Naas fired a shot from a tough angle and saw the puck bounce off a UMass Lowell defender and in for the 2-0 lead. UMass Lowell pulled their goalie but UConn got a pair of clears and hung on for the 2-0 win, which was huge for UConn in the Hockey East standings. It was also big since UMass Lowell hadn’t suffered a conference loss until this game, and UConn was the first to do it. The Huskies out-shot the River Hawks for the game 27-21; Rob Nichols picked up his second shutout of the season and fourth of young career. The game was played in front of a crowd of 6855 fans.
Their next game was at the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The game was to be nationally televised at NBCSN and it was the first meeting ever between the two teams. The first six minutes of the game were uneventful, until at the 6:23 mark of the first period, when UConn’s Ryan Segella was handed a five minute penalty for hitting from behind was kicked out of the game. Notre Dame also received a penalty, but only two minutes for elbowing, to set up two minutes of 4-on-4 hockey before the Irish would have a power-play for three minutes. Only four seconds after these two penalties though Notre Dame would get the game’s first goal. The Fighting Irish won the ensuing faceoff, and Robbie Russo received a pass at the blue-line where he would blast a slap-shot through traffic into the top of the net for the 1-0 lead. Just a little over five seven minutes later the Huskies tied the game back up. Corey Ronan won a puck battle behind the net, and fed a pass to Kasperi Ojantakanen who centered the puck to Spencer Naas in front of the net who buried it top shelf to even the score up at 1-1. It was Naas’ team-leading 10th goal of the season, and the goal extended his goal-scoring streak to five games. The score would stay tied at one at the end of the 1st intermission. Notre Dame dominated the play in the period leading in shots 15-7.
In the second period, Notre Dame took the lead back at the 8:45 mark of the period. Irish player Jordan Gross fed a pass down to Austin Wuthrich who backhanded a pass to Mario Lucia who backhanded it home into the wide-open side of the net, to give Notre Dame the 2-1 lead. Notre Dame controlled play for the next few minutes after this goal and looked to be taking control of the Huskies. However, at the 14:35 mark, the Huskies snapped out of their funk with the tying goal. Evan Richardson and Shawn Pauly collected the puck at the Huskies’ blue-line and sped in on a two-on-one. Evan Richardson held the puck all the way down the ice but then passed the puck at the last possible moment to Shawn Pauly who lifted the puck past Fighting Irish goalie Peterson to knot the game up at 2-2. The Huskies miraculously continued the momentum when they scored again to take the lead not even two minutes later. Ryan Tyson blocked a shot inside the Husky blue-line, where Joey Ferriss found the loose puck and chipped it to Cody Sharib who streaked in on a break-away, who snapped a shot past Peterson glove-side, to make it 3-2 Huskies. Sharib then turned in the most unique celebration I’ve ever seen, which was hilarious, so look for it in one of the videos below. The Huskies retained the 3-2 lead at the end of two periods; the shot-clock was much closer in the second period, with Notre Dame barely leading in shots 10-9.
The third period though was all Notre Dame and the Huskies fell apart. Notre Dame led the Huskies 14-3 in shots in the period, peppering Nichols and the Huskies defense with shots. The Huskies were able to hold on though until at the 11:37 mark the Fighting Irish tied the game up, 3-3, with a power-play goal. Robbie Russo blasted a shot into traffic from the blue-line, which created a scrum in front for the puck, which eventually got poked home for the goal. The Huskies managed to hold on and force overtime, where neither team scored , despite the Irish out-shooting the Huskies in overtime 5-1, to result in the 3-3 draw. Rob Nichols made 41 saves on the night to tie, a career high, and Notre Dame out-shot the Huskies in the game 44-20. The Husky defense blocked 22 shots on the night.
The two teams met again two days later at the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport. Unlike the first game of the home-and-home series, the second game was a disaster for UConn. The game started promising with UConn getting the first goal. Brent Norris sent the puck over to Kasperi Ojantakanen who blasted a wrist shot off the post and in for the power-play goal putting the Huskies up 1-0 with less than four minutes left in the period. The Irish were able to tie it though with just 48 seconds left in the period. Irish player Robbie Russo unleashed a huge slap-shot from the blue-line that found a way past Rob Nichols through traffic and in to send the teams into the first intermission tied up, 1-1. The Huskies were better in the shots category then in the previous game, with Notre Dame barely leading in shots in the frame, 13-12.
It was the second period though that changed the game in favor of Notre Dame. At the 12:33 mark of the third period, the Irish took their first lead. The Irish forced a turnover in the Husky end leading to a Irish breakout and Irish player Joe Aiken collected a loose puck and got a shot by Rob Nichols. The Irish then made it 3-1 before the period was out as Mario Lucia banged in a rebound off his own shot with just 1:01 remaining in the period. The Irish led 12-10 in shots in the period. In the third, the Irish kept pouring it on. Robbie Russo blasted a shot home just under the cross-bar for the 4-1 lead at the 2:55 mark of the third. The Huskies bad game and luck continued as Evan Richardson tipped home a goal but the goal was waved off for high sticking. The Huskies then pulled Rob Nichols in desperation with just over seven minutes to go but Robbie Russo scored in the empty-net to get a hat trick with his third goal of the day. The Irish got one more at the 17:05 mark to make it a 6-1 lead, which was the final score. The Irish out-shot the Huskies for the game 41-29; Rob Nichols made 35 saves in the loss, in front of 4597 fans in their last game at the Webster Bank Arena of the season. This game ended Spencer Naas’ scoring streak at five games with six goals in that span.
Six days later, the Huskies returned to action to play the Boston College Eagles on the road. This was a long awaited game for both sides for after the Huskies beat Boston College 1-0 at the XL Center in their historic home opener back in November, the Eagles had been hungry for revenge and the Huskies were eager to play them again. It was the Huskies however that, in an unfriendly environment, struck first. Johnny Austin collected a loose puck off a missed shot by Trevor Gerling, passed it to Ryan Segella who let a wrist shot rip into the top shelf for a 1-0 lead, and a power-play goal, which the Huskies would hold heading into the second period. BC owned the shot-clock in the period as they out-shot the Huskies in the first 15-6. In the second period, the Eagles pressed for the tying goal with their best chance being a break-away chance by Chris Calnan that was stopped by Rob Nichols.
The Eagles would break through finally with the tying goal though. Eagles’ player Michael Matheson fed a pass to teammate Ryan Fitzgerald who crashed the net and used some nifty stick work to eventually sneak the puck past Rob Nichols to knot the game up 1-1. The Huskies made quick work of the tie as just 23 seconds later the Huskies responded to retake the lead. Brent Norris took a pass from Johnny Austin and fired a shot on goal that was stopped by Demko but Joona Kunnas was at the left post to knock in the rebound to put UConn back in front, 2-1. The lead wouldn’t last long though as with 54 seconds remaining in the second period Boston College tied the game back up. The Eagles created a scrum in front of the net, and Ryan Fitzgerald found the loose puck and banged it home to knot the game up, 2-2 heading into the third period. The Eagles outshot the Huskies in the second 11-7.
In the third, UConn had more offensive chances then they had all night, but it was the Eagles who would score. Michael Matheson once again set up Ryan Fitzgerald who ripped a shot from the right circle by Rob Nichols under the bar, to put the Eagles up 3-2. The Huskies would have a great chance to tie, but a close-range shot from Joona Kunnas with seconds left in the game was gloved point-blank by Thatcher Demko, and the Eagles held on for the 3-2 win, to split the season series. The Eagles out-shot UConn 11-8 in the third, and 37-21 for the game. Rob Nichols made 34 saves; Johnny Austin recorded a career-high two assists for two points on the night, and Ryan Segella got his first career power-play goal.
The Huskies next traveled to Orono, Maine, to play the Maine Black Bears at Alfond Arena in their last game in the month of January. The game had crucial standings implications, as Maine and UConn were tied with Merrimack for eighth place, all with 12 points in the Hockey East standings. The first period was scoreless with Maine holding a 12-11 lead in shots. The Black Bears were 0-for-2 on the power-play in the period, and the Huskies went 0-for-1 on the power-play in the period. The Huskies had a power-play to start the second but came up empty on their chances. But only a few minutes later, the Huskies would be the first to strike the back of the net. Patrick Kirtland dug the puck out from behind the net and threw a shot on goal. A scrum resulted in front of the net as Maine goalie Matt Morris failed to find the puck to cover and Cody Sharib found the loose puck and tapped it in to put the Huskies up 1-0. The Huskies defense would keep them in front by that score heading into the third period. The shot-clock was even at 12 shots from each team in the second period.
In the third period, the Black Bears put on the offensive pressure, out-shooting the Huskies 13-8 in the period, and would find the tying goal. The Black Bears won the face-off and Maine player Steven Swavely threw a shot on goal that was saved by Rob Nichols but Devin Shore buried the rebound, top-shelf, from the left circle. The game would stay tied, and would go to overtime. The game looked like it would end in a tie until the Huskies aid otherwise. David Drake created a turnover in the neutral zone and chipped the puck up to Corey Ronan who fed Spencer Naas on a 2-on-1. Spencer Naas then ripped a wrist-shot on goal that trickled through Morris’ pads and barely crossed the goal-line for the overtime gamewinner with 20 seconds left in overtime. Maine out-shot UConn 42-35 in the game. Rob Nichols tied a career high in saves with 41; Spencer Naas scored his team-leading 11th goal with his gamewinner which was his fourth gamewinner of the season. The win was also UConn’s first overtime win of the year. With the win the Huskies pulled two points ahead of Maine but stayed tied with Merrimack who also claimed two points, by beating UMass Lowell.
Two days later, the Huskies finished out their weekend series against Maine back at home at the XL Center in Hartford. In the first period, Maine controlled most of the play leading in shots in the period 14-11, despite UConn getting the only power-play in the period which they failed to convert on. The period appeared that it would end scoreless until with 48 seconds to go in the period, the Black Bears got the game’s first goal. The Black Bears threw the puck on goal, and the shot was saved by Rob Nichols but a scrum resulted in front and Maine’s Conor Riley picked the puck out of the pile and passed it to Cam Brown who buried his shot into the twine to put the Black Bears up 1-0 heading into the first intermission.
The second period ended up being a wild period with UConn controlling most of the play and led the shot-clock 13-11. Maine got their first power-play but it only lasted eight seconds before two Black Bears were whistled for penalties just 27 seconds apart to give UConn a 4-on-3. The Black Bears killed off both penalties and scored a short-handed goal during the waning seconds of their second penalty. Maine player Blaine Byron got free on a break-away but Rob Nichols denied him with a sprawling save. Byron collected the rebound went behind the net and centered a pass in front to Jake Rutt who buried a one-timer to put the Black Bears up 2-0. Just when the Black Bears appeared to be taking control the Huskies rallied back. Joona Kunnas carried the puck deep into the zone before centering it to Senior captain Ryan Tyson who chippe dthe puck by Maine goalie Sean Romeo before hitting the ice to give UConn their first goal. It was his first goal of the year and first in 32 games, dating back to last February. Just 34 seconds later the Huskies scored yet again to tie it. Shawn Pauly fired a shot on goal that was saved but the rebound came right to Trevor Gerling who buried it top-shelf to tie it. Gerling also end a scoring-drought, except his was only a seven game scoreless streak. In the third the Huskies controlled play leading in shots 7-6 in the period and had some great chances but failed to score to take the lead. With 21 seconds left in the game Maine appeared to have scored for a dramatic win but the goal was waved off for goalie interference on the part of Maine for they intentionally pushed Rob Nichols back into the goal before they scored. The game went to overtime where both teams got a shot off but neither scored and the game ended in a 2-2 draw in front of a crowd of 5211 fans. Rob Nichols made 29 saves on the night and both teams got 31 shots on goal during the game.
The Huskies went 4-3-1 overall in the month of January and finished with a 3-2-1 Hockey East Conference record in the month as well. The Huskies were able to pull back into home playoff contention by sitting in eighth place all by themselves. They finished out their non-conference portion of the season with a home loss to Colorado College and a road win at Army to settle for a 3-6-3 non-conference record. The Huskies continued great play at the XL Center finishing the month 1-0-1 with a win over UMass Lowell and a tie with Maine. The Huskies, lastly, played their last two games at the Webster Bank Arena, both losses, to finish with 2-3 record this season in their five games at their secondary home. After their last game in Bridgeport the Huskies decided that they would move all home games to XL Center (thankfully!) next year, making it their true home. The decision was based on the fact that large crowds come to support the Huskies in Hartford compared to in Bridgeport where they averaged only a little over 2000 people a game. Also, the Huskies have a better home-ice advantage at the XL Center as a 3-1-2 record shows, compared to at the Webster Bank Arena where they were only 2-3. The month of January saw UConn become a very strong hockey team, improve their record, and move up in the Hockey East standings to be in better position for the playoffs.
UConn’s 2nd Goal Vs. UMass Lowell At The XL Center
Highlights From UConn’s Game At Notre Dame
Highlights From UConn’s Game At Maine