NORTHFORD, Conn. — With its lunch pail and hard hat in hand, Connecticut walked into the Northford Ice Pavilion on Saturday night and continued its ascent up the MAAC standings.
Thanks to a gritty defensive effort, solid goaltending from Jason Carey and a balanced offensive attack, the Huskies kept regional rival Quinnipiac reeling as a result of its 4-2 decision in front of a sold-out arena. By handing the Braves their fifth loss in their last six league contests, UConn was able to leap over Quinnipiac into sole possession of third place in the MAAC.
“This is the kind of effort that we need to win games — blue-collar and for the full 60 minutes,” UConn coach Bruce Marshall said. “These guys are pretty excited right now, but I’m not as excited as they are. I’m not trying to sound negative, but I believe that this is we should expect to do every night.
“We talked about it before the game in our meeting, that when the game ended tonight, I wanted to walk out of here knowing that if we had to play a playoff game tomorrow, that this team would be ready to play. And now we walk out of here tonight with that in place.”
Playing for the second consecutive night and decimated by injuries, the Braves (12-9-3, 9-6-1 MAAC) dropped their third straight game to a rested, more energetic UConn squad. The losing skid is the longest for Quinnipiac since it made the jump to Division I for the 1998-99 season.
“We’re hurting right now, we’ve got a slew of guys out of the lineup,” Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold said. “But if we had played better, we still could have won. When one team has the night off and the other team is playing its second game in two nights, it’s a big advantage for that team — and even more so if you’re in the situation like we are.”
UConn (9-12-3, 9-5-2 MAAC) never trailed in the game, but waited until the final few minutes of the contest to finally put the Braves away.
Leading 2-1 at the start of the third period, the Huskies increased their advantage to two goals with a score from Kurt Kamienski at the 6:57 mark.
However, when penalties to Matt Herhal and Scott Brown handed the Braves a 5-on-3 power play with under eight minutes to play, Quinnipiac had its chance to inch back into the game.
The hosts trimmed their deficit to a single goal at 15:08, as Matt Erhart’s bullet from the point eluded Carey. But the Braves momentum was short-lived, as UConn winger Charles Ridolf capped off a 3-on-2 rush with his first goal of the season just over two minutes later. From there, the Huskies held on for two crucial league points.
“Coming off a tie with Bentley, a game that we didn’t have our ‘A’ game, it was really do or die for us tonight,” Carey said. “Now we’ve got the ball rolling in the right direction. All of the rest of our games are against teams in the top part of the league, so it’s really important to keep going from here. Right now, we’re real happy with this win because it’s a huge one for us.”
The Huskies jumped on the Braves right from the opening faceoff and controlled play in all facets of the game during the course of the night.
Quinnipiac defenseman Anthony DiPalma was sent off for interference at 4:16, and UConn capitalized immediately with the man advantage. Senior forward Ciro Longobardi fed Eric Nelson at the point, and his slap shot beat QU goalie Justin Eddy for a 1-0 lead.
“It’s huge to get an early lead,” Nelson said. “It helps in every aspect of the game and gives you a lift to keep going.”
UConn maintained its aggressive play, but that style caught up with the visitors later in the period. Corey Salvatelli was called for holding, and Braves forward Terry Harris knotted the game up at 11:39 with a redirection of Brian Herbert’s shot from the top of the right circle.
The contest stayed that way until late in the second period when the Huskies cashed in on a Quinnipiac penalty once again. Mike Boylan’s blast from the right point was tipped in by Herhal, who was stationed out in front of the Braves cage.
“When we don’t rely on one line, we’re all right,” Marshall said. “Every line is vanilla, but when you throw a little chocolate syrup on top, we’re all right.”
Carey finished the night with 27 saves for the Huskies. His counterpart, Eddy, made 42 stops for the Braves.
Quinnipiac returns to action on Friday night when it gets a shot at redemption against Canisius. The Ice Griffs upended the Braves on Jan. 16 in Buffalo. UConn hosts MAAC leader Mercyhurst on Friday night.