STORRS, Conn. — Unlike Friday’s matchup that featured playoff-like fluid hockey, Saturday night’s game between Connecticut and Iona featured chippy play at every turn. It was the perfect stage for Anders Johnson to play hero as his goal at 11:41 of the third period powered the Huskies past the Gaels 3-2 as UConn completed the weekend sweep.
Johnson spent eight minutes in the penalty box before redeeming himself and pushing UConn’s winning streak to six games.
Huskies’ coach Bruce Marshall said, “Anders has a lot of heart and he has a lot of emotion. For him to get a big goal like that after we had to kill eight minutes in penalties maybe it’s a little justice and maybe it’s not justice because some of the penalties were bad. I think it’s good for a senior to have moments like that and he does care a lot. Some things just got the better of him tonight. At least he had a chance to end on a positive note.”
Marshall explained the chippy nature of Saturday’s game. “They felt like they probably took it to us a little bit last night and we got the win in overtime, so they were pressing to get two points and salvage the weekend,” he said. “I just think a lot of things that happened out there the teams did to themselves. It’s playoff-type hockey with teams trying to find the way to get the home ice.”
For the second straight night, Iona struck for the first goal — even though it did take them the entire period. The Gaels scored 15 seconds into a 5-on-3 advantage as Ryan Carter banged in a rebound off a scramble in front of goaltender Jason Carey with just 1.2 seconds remaining in the first period.
While Iona did not score on the ensuing power play, they did take a 2-0 lead at 6:58 of the second period when Tim Krueckl scored on a rebound after having his shot blocked by the Huskies’ defense.
Down two goals, Marshall rallied his troops by reminding them that was still a lot of hockey left to be played. “We know that there are 40 minutes of hockey left and we just had to get that next one. We can’t let them get the third one and kind of take it away from us. We’ve been working too hard to take ourselves out of the game,” he said.
Just like they did on Friday night, UConn rallied in the face of adversity as they tied the game with a pair of goals just 82 seconds apart. The Huskies cut the Gaels lead in half as they took advantage of a 5-on-3 power play of their own. While the two-man advantage had expired, Rusty Ruhl had to skate to the opposite end of the ice to join the Gaels’ penalty kill. As a result, Mike Boylan just managed to get off a shot from the point before being checked by Ruhl. Scott Galenza made the first save, but Kurt Kamienski converted on the rebound.
With the teams skating four a side, Jon Ames took advantage of the fact the Iona defense was not challenging him as he cycled the puck in the Gaels zone and tied the game at 2-2 at the 15:13 mark.
Ames’ goal pretty much summed up the way the game had turned in favor of UConn. “Give UConn credit, they got it done and we didn’t. UConn just progressively out hustled us as the game went on. We just basically got worse as the game went on and they got better. That was the difference,” Iona coach Frank Bretti said.
The stage was set for Johnson to step the forefront and put UConn ahead for good after serving his four minor penalties. “Charlie Riddolf got the puck to me and it was 2-on-2, I came down, and initially I was going to take the shot, but I figured maybe if I pulled a move I could see what would happen. I got the break, and on the shot I saw a little bit of the five-hole and I just aimed for it and luckily it went in,” Johnson said.
The senior from North Kingston, Rhode Island believes the weekend sweep of Iona sets UConn up as a team to be reckoned with in the final three weeks of the regular season. “We have a lot of confidence. We cam together as a team this weekend and really showed what this team is all about and somebody to be feared coming down the stretch,’ Johnson said.
With the tough weekend series completed, both coaches looked ahead to the daunting tasks they face next weekend.
“We’ve got a huge test next weekend with Mercyhurst. No one’s beaten them yet there, but I think this puts your confidence in getting on an eight-hour bus ride. I think tonight was a great team effort because we had guys that were killing penalties and you had guys on the power play and the guys that aren’t on either [unit] went out buzzing when they finally got back out there,” Marshall said.
“We’ve got another tough series coming up. I’m really not sure where the points are, but its just going to be tough road ahead of us,” Bretti said.
UConn (11-11-6, 10-6-4 MAAC) return to action on Friday night as they visit first place Mercyhurst in a 7 p.m. game at the Mercyhurst Ice Center. Iona (11-13-2, 10-8-2 MAAC) hosts Sacred Heart in a 7:30 p.m. matchup on Friday night at the Skate Nation Arena at New Roc City.