NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. — Matt Grew’s goal with 69 seconds remaining in overtime lifted Connecticut to a 4-3 victory over Iona in a game that was filled with playoff-like intensity and dominated by shifts in momentum.
Iona coach Frank Bretti recognized early in the game just how important momentum would be in the battle between the Gaels and the Huskies.
“I thought we came out and played, potentially, our best 10 minutes of the season starting off the game,” Bretti said. “We took a penalty that created a momentum change, and when you have two teams of similar types, momentum is going to play a big part in what each team does.”
Bruce Marshall realizes that every game is a playoff game for his Huskies.
“We’re in seventh place and all of those teams [Canisius, Iona and Sacred Heart] have 22 points and the only way we can get closer and consider ourselves in that mix is to have to get up where those 22 point guys are,” Marshall said. “We decided [to] make this a playoff game for ourselves.”
Iona scored early in the first period on their first power-play opportunity as Ryan Manitowich deflected a Nathan Lutz shot from the right point past UConn goaltender Artie Imbriano at 3:09.
The Gaels continued to pepper Imbriano and the UConn defense as they registered the games first 15 shots. The Huskies took nearly six minutes to register their first shot against Scott Galenza.
UConn tied the score six seconds after Iona killed off the early momentum-shifting penalty. UConn turned a turnover into a goal, as D.J. Miller converted on passes by Jon Ames and Anders Johnson at 11:13.
A little more than two minutes later, UConn made it 2-1 when Ron D’Angelo caught the Iona defense flatfooted. Scott Brown’s pass then split the two defenders and sent D’Angelo in for the goal at 13:20.
While UConn found itself on the short end of the shots on goal after the period (21-13), they still found themselves with a 2-1 lead — an advantage that even surprised Marshall.
“I thought we didn’t play very well early on in the game. If Iona had a chance to steal the game right away from us, they could have done it in that first seven or eight minutes. But then, for some reason, we had a 2-1 lead by the end of the first period,” Marshall said.
A big part of that reason was the play of Imbriano who stopped 20 of 21 Iona shots. Despite the slow start, Imbriano had confidence in his fellow Huskies. “I just wanted to keep our guys in it for a little bit because I knew they’d come around and sure enough [they did]. It’s a team game and these guys are great. We’ve been on a roll lately — and I knew the guys would come back.”
Imbriano’s belief in his team was shaken a bit as the Gaels scored two goals in less than four minutes to turn a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead. Rusty Ruhl started the comeback when his hit caused a turnover inside the UConn blue line. Ryan Carter controlled the loose puck and set up Chad Nordhagen in front for the goal at 4:39.
Iona recaptured the lead as Carter stole the puck at the UConn blue line and walked in alone to beat Imbriano at 7:53 — just as teammate Trevor Aubie stepped out of the penalty box.
UConn swung the pendulum of momentum back their way as it knotted the game 3-3 at the 14:45 mark. Evan Schwartz charged down the right wing and centered the puck to Ames in the slot for the tying goal.
The two teams ratcheted up the intensity during the final 20 minutes of regulation time. After combining for 58 shots over two periods, the two teams tallied only 15 shots in the third. Iona had the best chance to prevent overtime, but an Imbriano glove save on a Carter backhander in close kept the game tied with three and a half minutes remaining.
“I thought we outplayed them territorially,” said Bretti. “We spent the later part of the game, the later part of the third period and the overtime pretty much in their zone. But, we’ve all seen that before in hockey. All it takes is one break — and they got it and they got themselves a victory tonight.”
That break was an Iona turnover inside the UConn blue line that turned into a Huskies 3-on-1 break. Miller and Johnson combined to set Grew up in front for the redirection and the game-winning goal at 3:51 of overtime.
Grew and Ames are just two of the 10 freshmen Marshall has worked into the lineup, with positive results.
“We had a goal from Jon Ames and a goal from Matt Grew. Those are the guys we missed last year,” said Marshall. “We missed guys who can put the puck in the net with natural ability. We had the good work ethic and good team defense, so I think it’s paying off that they are scoring goals for us in big games.”
Marshall has also been getting solid play from his two goaltenders — Imbriano and Jason Carey. Marshall has been alternating his goaltenders as they have split playing time in five of the last six weeks.
Marshall thinks the competition forces each player to play their best and create a little friendly rivalry between them.
“I think now they have come to accept it and now they kind of feed of each other,” he said. “I think selfishly it is helping me out.”
True to Marshall’s alternating ways, Carey will get the start at home against Iona on Saturday night.
Imbriano does not see a problem with the alternating goaltender theory. In fact, he sees it as a plus.
“It’s great because Jason has been playing fantastically and I’m doing alright myself,” Imbriano said. “You have one game to focus on in the weekend. You leave it all on the ice because you don’t have to worry about tomorrow. You just go in and play your game and that’s it.”
UConn (10-11-6, 9-6-4 MAAC) and Iona (11-12-2, 10-7-2) finish their home-and-home series tonight with a 7:30 p.m. at the UConn Ice Arena in Storrs, Conn.