BOSTON — It wasn’t pretty and it took some early survival, but the UConn Huskies were “opportunistic,” according to head coach Bruce Marshall, and because of that were able to hand Bentley a 4-1 defeat in the second game of the Atlantic Hockey doubleheader played in front of 4,055 at the FleetCenter.
The survival came early, when UConn started flat and generated few offensive chances in the first period.
“We weren’t playing our ‘A’ game early on and we kind of stayed in the game,” said Marshall. “We were trying to make plays just to make plays, and finally we started to play with a little heart.”
The Huskies, indeed, were limited to only four shots in the opening 20 minutes, but thanks to a defense that was able to limit Bentley’s scoring chances throughout the night, the Huskies didn’t surrender anything early on either.
At the same time, the UConn special teams played strong from beginning to the end, killing off six Bentley power plays while scoring twice with the man advantage.
“Hats off to the penalty kill,” said Marshall. “We were in a stretch where we had to kill a few in a row and they played well.”
That included an extended five-on-three in the third period in which Bentley was limited to just three perimeter shots.
The one heartbreak for UConn was goaltender Scott Tomes. Playing on his 21st birthday, Tomes (23 saves) was just seconds away from his third career shutout before letting up the game’s final goal.
On the other side of the coin, Bentley head coach Ryan Soderquist was frustrated with his team’s performance, unable to pressure the UConn net or pepper Tomes with high-quality shots and getting a mediocre effort from starting goaltender Simon St. Pierre.
“We may have out outshot [UConn] but they outplayed us,” said Soderquist. “We have to change our mentality and realize we’re a blue-collar team.”
What most frustrated Soderquist was his team’s desire to try to make fancy plays through the neutral zone instead of playing the dump-and-chase style in which they’ve been schooled.
“We didn’t dump the puck, we didn’t generate chances and when we did cycle the puck, we didn’t get the shot off,” Soderquist said.
The first period featured few great scoring chances, with Bentley holding an 8-4 lead in shots. UConn, though, tallied the only goal.
On the power play, Tim Olsen, who needs just seven points to tie the all-time Division I record for points (100 — Olsen has 93) for UConn, fed defenseman Ryan Palmer, waiting at the center of the blueline. Palmer’s one-timer beat St. Pierre cleanly over the right shoulder, hitting the crossbar and dropping in the net at 18:19 for the 1-0 Husky lead through one.
After a scoreless second period, UConn jumped out to a 2-0 lead early in the third. Cole Koidahl took a feed from Charles Solberg and lifted a nifty backhander over St. Pierre at 4:33 to give UConn a two-goal cushion.
Just 71 seconds later, UConn iced the game. James Martin wrapped around the net to the left of St. Pierre and snuck a quick shot between the legs for a 3-0 UConn lead.
That spelled the end of the night for St. Pierre, who was replaced by Geordan Murphy.
With the floodgates open, Matt Scherer scored a five-on-three power-play goal, neatly gathering a Koidahl pass at the crease and lifting it over Murphy while falling at 9:58 to give UConn a 4-0 lead.
It appeared that Tomes might be on the way to the shutout, but Ryan Mayhew spoiled that in the final minute, scoring his eighth goal of the season with 35.8 seconds remaining.
“It’s my 21st birthday today, so [the shutout] would’ve been a great present,” laughed Tomes. “But most important of all we got the 4-1 win.”
The win improves UConn’s record to 9-9-1 in Atlantic Hockey and helps the Huskies keep pace with fifth-place Mercyhurst, a 4-0 winner over Army Saturday. UConn sits two points behind in sixth place.
Bentley, on the other hand, slips to 5-8-4 in league play and is now five points behind UConn for sixth.
The Huskies return to action on Tuesday to play the quasi-championship game from Saturday’s jamboree. UConn will host the winner of Saturday’s early game, Holy Cross, in Storrs, Conn.
Bentley remains idle until next weekend when it travels to Army for a two-game set.