WORCESTER, Mass. — A word to the wise — if you’re having a big party, you might want to think twice before inviting Connecticut’s Kurt Kamenski. The junior right wing provided Saturday night that he is an expert at spoiling a good time.
After host and number-three seed Holy Cross made a remarkable rally from a 5-1 deficit to tie UConn in Saturday’s MAAC quarterfinal game, Kamenski scored the game-winning goal with 21 seconds remaining in regulation to lift sixth-seeded Connecticut to an upset victory and a berth in the MAAC Final Four next weekend.
The goal spoiled what could have been the greatest comeback in MAAC playoff history, ended the period-long jubilation of the Crusader faithful, and most importantly kept Holy Cross, the host team next weekend, from advancing.
“I told the team that it didn’t matter if we had five goals and they had five goals, it’s all going to come down to one shot,” said UConn coach Bruce Marshall when asked what he told his team during a timeout, after Holy Cross tied the game with 3:01 remaining.
“We can’t help it that five goals went in. That’s gone. That’s done. It’s the next one we have to worry about.”
Kamenski’s goal turned around a third period that saw the Crusaders dominate UConn. Holy Cross outshot UConn, 21-5, in the frame, and got goals from Jeff Dams at 1:24, Brandon Doria at 9:01, Pat Rissmiller at 13:10 and Greg Kealey at 16:59. But a costly defensive zone turnover when pretty much everyone in the building was thinking “overtime” cost the Crusaders the game.
“We were forechecking hard and there was a giveaway by the defenseman,” said Kamenski. “The puck came onto my stick right in the middle of the slot, I shot as hard as I could, saw the five-hole open and put it there.”
The goals was one of six that made it past senior goaltender Derek Cunha (28 saves) on the afternoon, one that he’d particularly like to have back.
Despite a game that saw each team dominate one period — UConn the second, when they broke open a 2-1 game to take a 5-1 lead into the third, and Holy Cross the third — a major key to the game was the penalty killing of Connecticut. Facing the number-one in the league and second-best power play in the nation in Holy Cross, the Huskies stopped Holy Cross on five out of six attempts, including two in the third period.
“We knew that [Holy Cross] had the best power play in the league and we knew that the last two times that we played them we allowed them to get their shots,” said Marshall. “We worked on getting on them every time that we could and forcing them to get out of their set.”
The game opened with all indications that Holy Cross was ready to play. The Crusaders wasted no time getting on the board, burying their first scoring chance 68 seconds into play. Junior defenseman Chris Smith fired a wrist a shot from the right point that UConn goalie Artie Imbriano (39 saves) was unable to handle. Camped out in from, Rissmiller promptly buried the rebound for the 1-0 lead.
But that was all the offense Holy Cross would muster over the next 39 minutes, allowing UConn to move that game into what most in attendance thought was blowout territory.
The barrages began at 8:49 of the first on the power play when Ron D’Angelo roofed a rebound over Cunha. Eric Nelson made a centering pass to Jon Ames who fired a quick shot that Cunha stopped. The rebound, though, came to a wide-open D’Angelo to even the score at one.
Less than four minutes later, the Huskies struck again. This time D’Angelo sent rookie Matt Grew on a partial breakaway. Moving on the right wing, Grew wristed a low shot that beat Cunha to the far post for the 2-1 lead.
Early in the second, while on the power play, the Crusaders had a perfect opportunity to tie the game when Jeff Dams pushed a shot wide facing an open net. That missed chance proved to be a major turning point.
Less than five minutes later, UConn extended the lead when Beau McLaughin fired a rebound shot through a screen and over the shoulder of Cunha for the 3-1 lead.
It looked as if fortune could reverse as UConn had two glorious opportunities to tie the game — a shot of the crossbar by D’Angelo and a disallowed goal by Ames when referee Bob Ritchie blew a quick whistle. But unlike Holy Cross, UConn’s continued attack resulted in goals.
Evan Schwarz scored on the power play picking up a rebound in the slot and firing it low on Cunha at 11:42. And with 1:44 left in the second, Eric Nelson blast from the right point deflected off a Holy Cross defender and past a sprawled Cunha for a 5-1 lead entering the third.
But deciding that their careers wouldn’t end with a blowout, Holy Cross’ three seniors on the ice — Rissmiller, Tony Delusio and Cunha sparked the team between the second and third periods when Pearl admitted he “didn’t have to say much.”
“We’ve got four seniors and they’ve kind of been the heart and soul of the team all year,” said Pearl. “I didn’t say much between the second and third. I just gave the locker room to them.”
“From the second game of the year, when we were down three goals at Air Force and came back and won, we’ve been battling through adversity,” said Rissmiller, who is a likely candidate to be named Player of the Year. “We knew we had it in us [to come back], but a bad breakdown with 20 seconds left came back to haunt us.”
The win makes UConn the first team to advance to Thursday’s semifinals. Barring an upset by a lower seed, UConn will face the top remaining team in the tournament as the brackets are reseeded.