AMHERST, Mass. — In its first three games against Hockey East opponents this season, Connecticut was outscored by a tally of 16-5. As expected, the Huskies lost all three of those contests, falling to Merrimack (twice) and UMass-Lowell.
Thursday night, UConn had its last shot at beating a member of one of the “Big Four” conferences in a regional matchup against UMass-Amherst. On paper, it seemed like the Minutemen would control the game in the same fashion as last season’s 7-4 win over the Huskies. The only problem is, someone forgot to tell the Huskies about that repeat scenario.
Thanks to goals from senior captain Mike Anderson and Mike Boylan in a span of 38 seconds midway through the third period, the Huskies were able to board the bus home to Storrs, Conn., with a 2-2 tie — and more importantly, some added confidence to take back into the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference portion of their schedule.
“It’s early in the year, and to be down 2-0 in a visiting team’s barn and come back, that shows a lot of character,” UConn coach Bruce Marshall said. “Hopefully these kids will start believing in themselves.”
Even though the Huskies may not be the favorite to win the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament in March, they proved on Thursday night that they might be hard to overlook if they continue to play with the same emotion that was evident against the Minutemen.
In addition, freshman Artie Imbriano made 28 saves in the net to earn the tie for the Huskies. However, it was his ability to keep his club in the game well into the third period that turned out to be the deciding factor.
“Artie has proven that he can make the big save when we need it” Marshall said. “That’s why we keep putting him in there.”
For more than 50 minutes, Imbriano’s teammates could not solve UMass netminder Mike Johnson (17 saves). However, in a span of 38 seconds, the Huskies lit the lamp twice to even the game at 2-2. The first UConn goal from Anderson broke a string of more than 183 minutes in which the Minutemen had not allowed a goal at home.
“I give UConn high marks for coming to compete and give our guys real poor grades on that part,” UMass-Amherst coach Don Cahoon said. “We’re not a good enough team that we can play without emotion.”
Anderson, a senior co-captain, netted the first Huskies goal off a feed from Matt Herhal in the right-wing corner at the 12:03 mark. Herhal battled two UMass players to gain control of the puck, then flipped a pass to Anderson at the left point, who beat Johnson with a low blast to make it 2-1.
UConn (3-4-2, 3-1-1 in the MAAC) followed that score up with the game-tying tally a short while later. Eric Goclowski caught the Minutemen on a line change and raced down the left-wing boards before lofting the disc to Mike Boylan in the shot. The junior defenseman then fired a shot past Johnson to knot the game at 2-2.
“We can take a little bit out of this because we battled back,” Anderson said. “We tend to go through a point in a game where we take five or 10 minutes off, and tonight that cost us. We got down 2-0, but this is a character tie for us. We really pulled together in the third period.”
UMass (3-5-1, 3-1 in Hockey East) opened the scoring at the 15:06 mark off a goal from defenseman Luke Duplessis. Freshman Thomas Pock threaded a pass to Duplessis at the left point, where he snapped a low bid past Imbriano for a 1-0 advantage.
The Minutemen doubled their advantage with a goal in the final minute of the second period. Duplessis’ shot from the left point was blocked, but it deflected right to Pock in the left-wing corner. The Austrian then shook off a UConn defender and worked his way into the slot before backhanding a shot under Imbriano.
Although the tie was clearly another step back for the Minutemen, who have gone 0-2-1 since defeating then-No. 3 New Hampshire on Nov. 4, the Huskies are hoping to build some momentum off of their performance against UMass-Amherst.
“Hopefully this sends a message to the rest of the league that we’re ready to play,” UConn senior center Ciro Longobardi said. “For the past four years, no one on this team has made a first or second all-conference team, yet we won the [MAAC] tournament title last year. It [the reason for success] has all been because of hard work.”
Added Marshall: “We’ve played four games against Hockey East teams and earned one win, so it’s clear that their league has a league up on ours. But we’re really playing for March. We want to carry this to a time down the road when we might need it.”
The Huskies return to action on Wednesday night for a conference home game against Mercyhurst. UMass-Amherst will venture outside of Hockey East once again on Saturday night when it travels to RPI.