STORRS, Conn. — Four points.
That’s what this weekend boiled down to for Sacred Heart. The Pioneers’ high powered offense might not have been firing on all cylinders and the weekend sweep certainly wasn’t pretty, but with a 3-2 win over Connecticut Saturday night at Mark Edward Freitas Ice Forum, Sacred Heart (13-9-4, 11-6-3 AHA) now owns a 12-game unbeaten streak, tops in the country and best in program history.
“It was a hard fought weekend for us,” Pioneers’ assistant coach Scott McDougall said. “We really worked hard for those four points. [Goalie Steven] Legatto made two or three really huge saves that turned the hockey game [tonight]. That game could have gone either way, but we’ll take the two points and keep it rolling here.”
Despite ending the first period with as many penalties (three) as shots on net, the Huskies found themselves in a 1-1 game. Erik Boisvert, who victimized the Huskies for the game-winning goal in overtime Friday, scored a power-play goal at 7:16 to put Sacred Heart up 1-0.
UConn’s Matt Miller was called for a pair of penalties at 7:39 and 10:53, respectively. The Pioneers controlled the puck during each of their power plays, but their shots were sprayed wide or above the net, as Sacred Heart couldn’t push the lead to two.
“Our penalty kill was pretty good tonight,” McDougall said. “They took a lot of penalties and our power play wasn’t great tonight. But credit the guys on the penalty kill, they had to play a lot tonight.”
Sacred Heart drew eight penalties, while the Huskies were called for nine in the game.
Connecticut (4-20-3, 4-14-3) made their first shot on net of the night count. Jeff Sapieha took a pass from Tom Janosz in the right faceoff circle and passed it down low to Justin Hernandez at the left post. Hernandez flicked it past the back of Legatto, tying the game at 13:36.
The teams combined for eight penalties in a gritty second period. Sacred Heart’s Nick Johnson was whistled for interference 37 seconds into the period, leading to near disaster on the Huskies’ power play, as Sacred Heart tallied three separate breakaways, including a two-on-one that was thwarted when a point-blank shot from Matt Gordon was turned away by Garrett Bartus. The rebound bounced to Eric Delong on the weak side, who also was denied by Bartus.
“He gives us a chance every night,” Connecticut coach Bruce Marshall said of Bartus. “I think he’s gone toe-to-toe with every goalie he’s gone against.”
After nearly 20 minutes of mucking and grinding, it was only fitting that the lone goal late in the period wasn’t fit for any highlight reels. Sacred Heart’s Nick Johnson picked off a pass deep in UConn territory and was taken down as he flicked a shot near the crease, but somehow the puck bounced into the net to give the Pioneers a 2-1 lead with at 18:51. The tally was Johnson’s 21st, tops in the nation.
“That’s a shot from a goal scorer,” McDougall said. “We had some chances this weekend that we thought we could have scored on and got some goals that we couldn’t believe went in.”
The Huskies drew a power play midway though the third when Legatto was called for interference. With Mike Rosata serving in the box, the seconds ticked away on UConn’s man advantage as Sean Ambrosie passed to Marcello Ranallo in the slot, who was denied by Legatto. However, the puck bounced out and was collected by Chris Waterstradt, who passed it back to Ambrosie in the crease. The freshman’s shot was on mark and produced a 2-2 tie at 9:46.
However, Sacred Heart grabbed the final goal and the lead at 4:46. Mitchell Stretch whipped the puck down low from beyond the right faceoff circle and David Berube was there to collect it on the left post and beat Bartus with a series of nifty moves from in close.
Bartus finished with 33 saves, while Legatto turned away 24 Huskies’ shots.
Despite the loss and weekend sweep, Marshall harvests few qualms about his team.
“We’ve gone Air Force, RIT, Army on the road, and now Sacred Heart, who hasn’t lost in twelve games,” Marshall said. “I didn’t think we were that far away from them. If we were starting a playoff series next Friday, I’d feel pretty good about it.”