STORRS, Conn. — A matchup between the hottest team in the nation and one of the bottom feeders in Atlantic Hockey had all the ingredients for a snoozer.
In fact, it was anything but drab, as Sacred Heart used an overtime goal from Eric Boisvert to defeat Connecticut 4-3 in a physical, entertaining game.
With the win, the Pioneers extended their unbeaten streak to eleven games, best in the country.
“It wasn’t pretty tonight.” Sacred Heart assistant coach Scott McDougall said. “We’re making some mistakes but we’re overcoming them because guys are playing hard. One of the reasons we were able to come through in overtime is because our guys are getting a winning mentality. We weren’t trying to tie. We played to get the two points.”
An up and down three periods of regulation started with UConn scoring first. Justin Hernandez took a pass from Jason Krispel and poked it in from point blank range to give the Huskies a 1-0 lead at 8:39.
The Pioneers tied the game at 11:07 when Patrick Knowlton took a pass from Dave Jarman and went top shelf for his tenth goal of the season.
A Connecticut defensive breakdown let the Pioneers seize their first lead of the night less than two minutes later. Jarman, who entered the game third in the nation in assists, picked up his second helper of the night, moving down the right wing and flicking the puck to a wide open Nick Johnson, who rapped a shot from between the faceoff circles that dinged off the corner of the right post before dropping in behind Garrett Bartus.
It was the senior’s 20th goal of the season, moving him into a tie for first with Massachusetts’ Casey Wellman.
“We’ve watched a lot of film on them,” McDougall said. “They’re a big physical team, they like to keep the puck on the wall and grind it out, and kind of get away from the finesse game. They did a good job neutralizing some of our guys who have a lot of points. You’ve got to try to win games different ways and this was a good way for us to win a game. We’ve been scoring a lot of goals lately and burying more of our chances.”
Sacred Heart had a chance to pull away with a fleeting 5-on-3 window early in the second.
With teammate Brad Cooper already in the box, Husky captain Michael Coppola joined him after getting called for a cross check at 3:04, giving the Pioneers a two man advantage for thirty-one seconds.
But Connecticut squashed the power play chance for the Pioneers and Coppola atoned for his transgression moments later, streaking down the right wing and launched a shot amongst traffic that clanked off the left post and bounced past Steven Legatto and into the net to tie the game at two at 5:54. Hernandez and Chris Waterstradt were credited with assists on the goal.
UConn (4-19-3 overall, 4-13-3 in Atlantic Hockey) had a chance to take the lead at 6:32 when Marcello Ranallo broke towards center from the right wing slot and deked his way towards net, but Legatto (22 saves) was there to turn it away. Sacred Heart too, had a scoring opportunity fall into its lap when a Husky defender tripped in front of the net, leaving Johnson open on the right post, but the senior was unable to get a clean shot off.
“We turned it over way too much tonight but at least we were battling,” UConn head coach Bruce Marshall said.
The Pioneers (12-9-4, 10-6-3) regained the lead at 18:04. Eric Delong flicked the puck on net on a wraparound, but Bartus turned it away with his pad. As the puck hung in the crease, Matt Gingera swooped in to pound it home and give Sacred Heart a 3-2 lead. Connecticut scored the third period’s only goal to tie the game at three when Waterstradt lofted a shot from the blueline that tied the game at 9:44.
But Boisvert’s tally 1:45 into overtime assured the Pioneers’ unbeaten streak remained intact.
“I kind of fell at the other end to start and all of a sudden I get the puck on a four-on-two,” Boisvert said. “I decided to shoot it on the short side and got the goal.”
Marshall said the puck went off the shoulder of Bartus (26 saves).
“We have to take that chance at the other end,” Marshall said. “The puck bounced their way tonight. Sacred Heart has got the magic and we’re going to need to get some magic of our own.”