STORRS, Conn. 06269 — Home ice, Jeff Larson, and a strong special teams performance proved to the perfect formula the Connecticut Huskies needed to put their early season road woes behind.
UConn, which started 0-6 on its season opening road trip, capped off a weekend sweep of American International at Mark Edward Freitas ice forum with a 4-1 win over the Yellow Jackets Saturday night.
After a shaky weekend last week at RIT, Larson bounced back to stop 48-of-50 shots in the series against AIC, including 22-of-23 Saturday.
“It’s a lot easier to play in the home barn and not get yelled at by fans.” Larson said, who made perhaps his best effort at 4:57 in the second, stuffing the Yellow Jackets’ Steve Mele on a breakaway chance.
As they did Friday night, the Huskies jumped to an early 1-0 lead.
Sean Ambrosie came sweeping across the back of the net and flicked the puck out to freshman Jim Gallagher in the slot. Gallagher lofted it past AIC goalkeeper Jake Anderson (23 saves) for his first collegiate goal at 4:28.
After being shut out on the power play Friday, the Yellow Jackets once again failed to put any shots on net during their first chance with a man advantage.
However, on their second go around, it took a mere five seconds for AIC to tie the score.
Connecticut’s Stevie Bergin was called for interference at 14:53 and AIC instantly netted the equalizer when Mike McMillan beat Larson.
AIC’s Steve McLeod was whistled for a five-minute major for hitting from behind at 8:45 in the second, giving the Huskies an opportunity to break the stalemate.
Connecticut did just that, cashing in with two goals in just under a minute to jump out to a 3-1 lead.
“I like how we capitalized on the five-minute major,” UConn coach Bruce Marshall said. “We’ve had one or two of those this year and that really deflates a team to get those two goals there. I think that gave the team the confidence to think ‘Hey, we can take control of this game.”
At 2:08 into the man advantage, Marcello Ranallo broke up the right slot and deked two AIC defenders, giving him an open shot at the net. His strike was on target, bouncing past Anderson to put the Huskies up 2-1.
Fifty nine seconds later, Andrew Gerke scored his second goal in as many nights, taking a pass from Andrew Olson and ripping it in from point blank range. Ambrosie was credited with the other helper, his second of the game.
“He’s got some good offensive skill,” Marshall said of Gerke. “When we brought him here, we knew he could add some things. I thought he had great poise and patience on [the goal]; he didn’t shoot into the shin guards.”
Connecticut’s special teams play was one of the highlights of the weekend. The Huskies held AIC to just the one goal on eight opportunities on a man advantage, while finding the back of the net two times in nine tries on their own power play.
Connecticut peppered the net with 15 shots on their weekend power plays, compared to just three for AIC.
“We made some adjustments tonight, our guys were a little bit better tonight, but that’s one of the things we’re going to have to work on this weekend,” AIC coach Mike Field said of his power play unit. “It was going pretty good before that and we need to get back to some of those ways.”
The Huskies’ strong special teams play on the weekend is something Gerke is looking to carry over into the rest of the season.
“We were doing alright on the power play [before], but we just couldn’t put the puck in the net,” Gerke said. “I think tonight was a good ice breaker. We got some goals going and hopefully we can get our percentage up.”
The Huskies added an empty-net goal with 17 seconds left, as Matt Turner took a Mike Coppola pass and lunged forward to poke it into the net.
“I think our guys have got to figure out if they don’t work harder then the other team, they’re never going to win,” Field said. “Maybe this weekend was a good lesson for them, because UConn outworked us all weekend. ”