STORRS, Conn. 06269 — After a tough 0-6 start on the road to begin the season, the Connecticut Huskies needed a strong start in their home opener against American International.
And that’s just what they got Friday night at the Mark Edward Freitas Ice Forum as they out gritted AIC en route to a 3-1 win.
The Huskies (1-6 overall, 1-3 in Atlantic Hockey) had several chances early, highlighted by an Andrew Olson rocket that dinged off the post in the opening minutes of the game.
“I thought we played a real good first period, with really good intensity,” said UConn head coach Bruce Marshall. “We were dictating the way play was going, even though we didn’t get a lot to show for it.”
UConn’s Jason Krispel was whistled for hooking at 15:14, giving the Yellow Jackets (1-4-1, 1-2-1) their first power play of the game. The Husky penalty kill unit was able to stymie AIC’s attack, clearing the puck several times.
“Last weekend we gave up five or six power-play goals, so it was good to get the first [penalty kill] out of the way,” Marshall said.
Twenty-two seconds after getting back to even strength, the Huskies jumped ahead on the scoreboard. Freshman Alex Gerke lofted a floater from several feet inside the blue line that found its way over AIC goalie Ben Meisner’s shoulder and into the net. Jim Gallagher and Matt Miller were credited with assists on the play. It was Gerke’s first goal of his young collegiate career.
“It was finally nice to get that first win of the season and get that out of the way,” Gerke said. “We had some rough games and then lost a couple of close ones.”
UConn went up 2-0 at the 10:18 mark in the second. Meisner deflected a shot that flew up in the air and into the scrum around the net, where it eventually made its way out to Jeff Sapieha who went top shelf from the outer edge of the left faceoff circle. Miller and Matt Turner picked up the assists on Sapieha’s first goal of the season.
But the Yellow Jackets wasted little time responding, as Adam Pleskach’s first collegiate goal just over a minute later pulled AIC to within one again.
“The second period, I thought they came out very hard and we didn’t make good decisions with the puck, on top of them raising their intensity when they got that goal,” Marshall said.
Connecticut failed to put away AIC until the closing seconds of the third, when Olson took a Tom Jansz pass and zipped it into the empty net to secure the Huskies’ first win of the season.
“They out competed us everywhere,” Yellow Jackets’ assistant coach Mike Field said. “They just outworked us, plain and simple.”
Husky freshman Jeff Larson turned away 26-of-27 shots in net for his first collegiate win, while Meisner finished with 27 saves.
“He’s played well,” Marshall said of Larson. “Last weekend was a total blowup for us a team and for a young kid to go from giving thirteen goals on the weekend and to come back and win a 3-1 game, that will help him down the road.”
The Huskies’ toughness was something that wasn’t lost on Field entering the game.
“I’ve watched some of their games and they’ve been in some tight games with some top teams,” he said. “Just because they hadn’t had a win doesn’t mean they weren’t a good team.”
The teams close out the weekend with a 7:05 p.m. start on Saturday.