BOSTON — Going into Friday’s game between Connecticut and Northeastern, everyone knew that the Huskies would come out winners.
Northeastern, though, kept things according to script, outplaying and outscoring its brethren Huskies from UConn, 5-2, to earn its first home victory of the season in front of an announced crowd of 1,740 at Matthews Arena.
The offensive hero of the game for Northeastern was top-line center Jason Guerriero, who buried the first and last goals of the night for Northeastern to help maintain his point-per-game-plus scoring average on the season.
“We put a lot of pressure on [UConn] early but couldn’t find a way to score,” said Northeastern coach Bruce Crowder. “You get in games like that and they can kind of get scary as the minutes start to tick away.
“Jay Guerriero took things into his own hands. He scored a beautiful goal for us and that kind of breaks the ice.”
Break the ice it did. Northeastern scored three times in the opening five minutes of the second to take a 4-0 lead and never look back.
A key for the Huskies was the penalty kill. Entering the game with only a 69 percent success ratio when down a man, Northeastern killed off seven of eight UConn power plays, allowing the only goal late in the game on a five-on-three.
“Our penalty kill was a little bit better,” admitted Crowder. “I think we have to get a lot better a decision-making and knowing when to pressure and when not to pressure. We’re ‘tweeners a lot, right now.”
Another bright light was the play of goaltender Keni Gibson. Though not forced to make a lot of saves, he handled a number of testing shots on his way to stopping 20.
In the other net, rookie Brad Smith (39 saves) played a solid 55 minutes but, like the rest of his team, seemed to lose focus for the opening five minutes in the second which ultimately was the difference in the game.
“Everything [during the five-minute span] was kind of broken plays,” said UConn coach Bruce Marshall. “[Smith] did make a lot of plays in the first period that kept us in it but [that span] was tough.”
A scoreless first period featured lackluster play from both sides and a lack of quality scoring chances. Despite the shot chart marking Northeastern with an 18-5 advantage, the average eye likely remembered only one memorable bid for each team.
UConn had the first chance, when standout forward Tim Olsen was set up beautifully in the slot by linemate Matt Scherer. Olsen, though, one-timed the shot right into the midsection of Gibson making it an easy save.
Northeastern’s best bid wasn’t as simple for Smith. Mike Morris’ one-timer from the left point on the power play seemed destined for the top corner before Smith flashed the glove while moving left to right to snatch the shot and keep the game even through one.
In the second, NU left little doubt about which shots hit the net, scoring on their first three opportunities.
The action began just 32 seconds into the frame when Guerriero scored his third of the season, hammering home a loose puck that bounced from the left corner on the power to give Northeastern a 1-0 lead.
Less than three minutes later, defenseman Steve Birnstill made two skillful moves around UConn defensemen inside the zone. Once he had enough leverage for a shot, he feathered the puck along the ice and caught Smith sliding in the wrong direction for a 2-0 lead
Still shaken, Smith gave up a third goal just 16 seconds later. NU rookie Josh Robertson fired a shot from the middle of the zone that bounced off of Smith’s right shoulder and into the top corner to extend the lead to 3-0.
UConn coach Bruce Marshall immediately called timeout to compose his club, and that seemed to pay off, at least for Smith, who stopped Northeastern’s Carter Lee and Jason Blain on flurries in front on the very next shift.
Smith couldn’t stop Jared Mudryk, though, at 16:04 when the pint-sized senior buried a rebound at the left post as he fell to the ground for a 4-0 Northeastern lead.
UConn got on the board with 1:38 remaining in the second as J.R. Corkery’s blast from just inside the right faceoff dot beat Gibson. Still, a 4-1 deficit was a tall order from which to recover.
Any thought of a comeback was erased early in the third as Guerriero scored his second of the night at 1:31. His shot from along the right half board slipped through traffic and then through the legs of a screened Smith to give NU a more-than-comfortable 5-1 lead.
UConn’s Olsen would add a five-on-three power-play goal through traffic with 2:17 remaining to account for the 5-2 final.
The loss drops UConn’s record to 1-4-1, after a tough out-of-conference slate to begin the year.
For Northeastern the win levels its record at 3-3-1 as it enters conference play next weekend against Maine. It’s a far cry from the 0-9-2 start the Huskies had last season, though to Crowder, there’s still progress still to be made.
“We got a lot of help from everybody [tonight] which is what we’re looking for,” said Crowder. “But we have a long way to go. We have some things that we can work on. We’re seven games into the season and we have a pretty good [month of] November ahead of us.”