STORRS, Conn. — Throughout the course of Thursday night’s MAAC contest between Connecticut and Sacred Heart, Huskies senior center Ciro Longobardi was one of the few calm souls on the ice in what was otherwise an extremely physical matchup.
On two separate occasions, UConn’s third-leading scorer made an attempt to break up skirmishes that involved his fellow linemates, Kurt Kamienski and Eric Goclowski.
Not one to resort to late hits or any other dirty tactics, Longobardi instead let his actions get his point across. He sparked the Huskies by recording the game-winning goal, and also added an assist on the tying marker to propel UConn to a 3-2 come-from-behind victory at the UConn Ice Arena.
Ironically, the lone time that the senior allowed his emotions get the best of him was immediately after scoring the game-winner. After Pioneers’ forward Marc-Andre Fournier unsuccessfully attempted to blanket Longobardi on the shot that provided the margin of victory, the Wallingford, Conn. native skated back to the UConn bench after exchanging words with his Sacred Heart counterpart.
“He kind of helped me actually,” said Longobardi of Fournier in reference to his shot from the right circle. “He twisted me up, and I was just trying to throw it on the net. But when he did that, I had more to go for in the top corner.”
“I probably should thank him for that,” laughed the Huskies’ offensive star of the night. “Maybe you should give him an assist on that one.”
The goal also capped a three-goal comeback for UConn, which trailed Sacred Heart midway through the second period before springing back to life. The Huskies improved to 7-11-2 (7-5-1 MAAC) and pushed their lead over Sacred Heart to four points in the league standings. The Pioneers could have leaped into a tie with UConn with a victory.
“That was a good win tonight,” UConn coach Bruce Marshall said. “I thought that we played a complete game and the effort was there. Coming back from two goals down is what we need this late in the year.”
Said Sacred Heart coach Shaun Hannah: “We went into this game wanting to win it because we knew that a win would tie it up, plus we would have a game in hand. That was the situation that we were looking for, but it didn’t happen that way.”
The Pioneers (7-6-3, 4-5-3 MAAC) dominated the Huskies in the opening period and went into the locker room with a 1-0 lead at the intermission. Sophomore forward Richard Naumann knocked in the lone goal of the frame on a wraparound that snuck between the legs of UConn goalie Jason Carey.
Sacred Heart almost doubled their lead in the waning seconds of the period, but the officials ruled that a shot by Lloyd Marks crossed the goal line just after time had expired.
Instead, the Pioneers needed only 40 seconds of the second period to record that elusive second goal. Michael Forsland was credited with an unassisted goal following a strange sequence in which the puck caromed from the right-wing boards to in front of the cage, where it was then batted past a surprised Carey.
“I thought that our guy had it, but it rolled off of his stick,” explained Carey. “I figured that my guy was going to clear it out, but the next thing you know, it’s in the back of the net.”
UConn finally dented the twine at the 12:26 mark of the second period on a goal from Michael Boylan. The Huskies finished off a three-on-two rush when Longobardi took a shot from the high slot that was originally stopped by SHU netminder Eddy Ferhi. However, the rebound ended up right on the stick of a wide-open Boylan, who buried his fifth goal of the year.
Junior right wing Trent Landry knotted the game just over five minutes later on another rebound goal. Eric Nelson’s shot from the right point clanged off the left post, but Landry was camped out right on the doorstep and poked home the loose puck.
Longobardi closed out the scoring with his fifth goal of the year 6:13 in the final period. UConn took advantage of another three-on-two rush, and Longobardi fought off Fournier just long enough to flip a shot over the glove of Ferhi.
“We’re not the type of a team like Quinnipiac who scores eight or nine goals a game,” Longobardi said. “We’re probably only going to score three or four tops, so we have to stay tight on our defense.”
The Huskies were able to maintain defensive pressure for the majority of the night, but Carey was up to the task when there was a breakdown. Among his top saves included two point-blank stops on Martin Paquet within a span of 30 seconds that allowed UConn to maintain its one-goal lead.
“The team played very well in front of me and I was very comfortable in there,” said Carey, who made 17 saves. “This is a big win for us, and a good way to start off the second half of conference play.”
In addition to Longobardi’s two-point night, Goclowski also registered two assists on the evening for the Huskies.
UConn returns to action on Sunday at 3 p.m. when it hosts Army in another critical MAAC contest. Sacred Heart travels to American International on Saturday night at 7 p.m.