STORRS, Conn. — The play started off innocently, with Connecticut senior co-captain Michael Goldkind gliding through the neutral zone and into the Holy Cross end of the ice. He stopped momentarily to sidestep a check, and then fired a shot wide of the Crusaders’ cage.
What happened next caused the Huskies’ bench and their faithful to cringe.
After releasing the shot, Goldkind was sandwiched between three Holy Cross players and remained on the ice for a couple of minutes, writhing in pain. Meanwhile, his teammates were gathered by their bench, using the stoppage to recuperate in a game in which they were trailing 3-1 with 13:47 remaining.
Eventually, the Huskies’ leading scorer managed to skate off under his own power. However, by the time he stepped onto the ice for his next shift 1:40 later, UConn had scored twice to knot the game at 3-3.
Then, with 38 seconds left in regulation, senior forward Ciro Longobardi fired a bullet from the right circle that beat Holy Cross goalie Rick Massey, capping off a frantic third-period comeback for the Huskies in a 4-3 victory.
With the win, the Nutmeggers improved to 6-5-1 in the MAAC and advanced to the finals of the SNET/UConn Hockey Classic. The Huskies will face Wayne State, a 5-2 winner over Queens earlier Friday, in the championship on Saturday night at 7 p.m. at the UConn Ice Arena.
“You see our captain get taken down hard, and there’s a little lull in the game,” said UConn freshman forward Matt Owens, who assisted on the second Huskies goal. “But then you see him getting up, and you think, ‘He’s out there every day trying to win.’ Just seeing him go down [while trying to make a great play] really got everyone fired up.”
Until Goldkind’s incident, the Huskies (6-8-1 overall) were having all kinds of problems with Massey. The Crusaders’ goalie made several big saves in the second period and a few more beauties early in the final frame, but the rejuvenated UConn attack proved too much for Holy Cross down the stretch.
Owens ignited the comeback with a great individual effort that set up a marker from Anders Johnson only 6:13 into the final frame. He outmuscled Crusaders defenseman Chris Smith by lifting the stick of the Holy Cross blueliner, then fed Johnson in the left circle. The North Kingstown, R.I., product snapped a shot over the glove of Massey to trim the UConn deficit to 3-2.
Another blue-collar effort by the Huskies resulted in the tying goal. Once again, the line of Owens, Johnson and Trent Landry was in the middle of things, forechecking in the Crusaders zone for nearly 45 seconds. After a clearing attempt was blocked, defenseman Eric Nelson lofted a bid from the point that made it through a screen to even the score at 3-3.
“What we haven’t been doing in the first part of the year was scoring goals because of hard work,” UConn coach Bruce Marshall said. “I said to them that you’ll get the pretty ones after you work hard [for the tough ones].”
“At the [second] intermission, I told them that we were winning the game in so many areas, except on the scoreboard,” he added. “We needed to get back to what we’ve been doing well.”
Longobardi netted his third goal of the season in the final minute of play, the result of another gritty effort by the UConn forwards. Senior Eric Goclowski won a draw in the right circle and slid it to Longobardi along the right-wing boards. The Wallingford, Conn., native watched his first shot get blocked by a Holy Cross defenseman, yet stuck with the play. Longobardi warded off a Crusaders backchecker and wound up for a low blast that was ticketed for the lower right corner from the moment it left his stick.
“Eric took the draw, and he was great on that side all night,” Longobardi said. “The plan was for me to shoot it, but I don’t know if they [Holy Cross] planned for it to go in. I was just trying to direct it at the net and hope that it would hit somebody.”
The goal sent the UConn faithful into a frenzy and ensured the home team a chance to defend its SNET/UConn Classic title on Saturday night.
“I didn’t bring it [defending the title] up because it was a league game for us tonight,” Marshall said. “But now we can talk about it as a source of pride. We haven’t had a senior class that has won this tournament two years in a row. Maybe we can use that as motivation tomorrow night.”
Holy Cross (3-11-1, 3-7-1 MAAC) stormed out of the gate in the first period, scoring twice in the opening 9:20 to take an early 2-0 lead.
Jeff Dams recorded the first goal for the Crusaders, a snapshot that beat UConn goalie Artie Imbriano only 5:47 into the contest. Just over three minutes later, Steve Sullivan notched his first collegiate goal on a floater that surprised Imbriano and doubled the Holy Cross advantage.
The Huskies caught a break in the waning seconds of the opening period to head into the intermission with some momentum. With four seconds remaining in the frame and a faceoff deep in the Holy Cross end, Goldkind lost the pivotal draw. However, the puck caromed into the left-wing corner, where Goclowski threw it on net. Sophomore forward Ron D’Angelo redirected the pass into the cage just before the horn sounded to cut the Crusaders’ lead in half after 20 minutes.
Neither team managed to score in the second period, but Holy Cross seemed to have things all wrapped up after Tom Pawlak’s goal at 3:59 of the third period increased its advantage to 3-1. Instead, the Huskies came roaring back in the final 13 minutes to steal an important two points from the Bay State school.
“They beat us and that’s fine,” Holy Cross hockey coach Paul Pearl said. “But we had a lot of opportunities to make it 4-1 when it was 3-1, and 3-0 when it was 2-0. You can’t let the other team hang around like that.”
Johnson (one goal, one assist), Goclowski (two assists) and Landry (two assists) all finished the night with two points apiece. Imbriano made 18 saves in goal to earn the victory.