STORRS, Conn. — On a night when Connecticut honored its two graduating seniors, it was a pair of late goals by junior Jason Krispel that sent the Huskies into jubilation and allowed coach Bruce Marshall to claim his 300th win at UConn with a 3-2 overtime win over Mercyhurst in the final regular season game of the year Saturday night at Mark Edward Freitas Ice Forum.
“The kids deserve it; they’ve been battling all year,” Marshall said. “We really haven’t been that far away. If we could start the season over with a few of the things we learned, then we might have a little more success than what shows in the wins and the losses.”
Down 2-1 and with goalkeeper Garrett Bartus on the bench, Connecticut turned the puck over near their own blue line, but where able to regain control and break out on the rush. Krispel scooted down the right wing and took a pass from Justin Hernandez, burying it past Lakers’ goalie Ryan Zapolski (23 saves) to tie the game with 35 seconds left.
The junior wasted no time adding to his late game heroics. With matching penalties at the end of regulation presenting a four-on-four matchup, Andrew Olson maneuvered down low on the right post before flicking the puck to Krispel, who ended the game 42 seconds into overtime and sent seniors Michael Coppola and Brendan Olinyk off with a win in the final home game of their careers.
“I can’t thank him enough,” Coppola said of his fellow assistant captain, Krispel. “He played his heart out all night and two shots was all it took.”
A scoreless first period wasn’t lacking in prime chances for Mercyhurst. Lakers’ forward Grant Blakey was tripped while on a breakaway and awarded a penalty shot at 15:27, but his attempt was thwarted by Bartus, who stuck his pad out to send the puck ricocheting up and over the net.
Bartus (27 saves) was again on the spot less than 30 seconds later when Scott Pitt broke into the open, but once again the freshman was there to preserve the scoreless tie.
“We were debating whether to go back with him or to give him the night off,” Marshall said of Bartus, who was pulled in the first period Friday after surrendering three goals on nine shots. “I felt like at the end of the day, let him get back in there so when he goes into the playoffs the last thing he’s thinking isn’t a flub puck or something like that from the night before. He made some key saves [tonight].”
After killing Connecticut’s first three penalties of the game, Mercyhurst lit the scoreboard at 10:45 of the second period.
The Lakers blocked a UConn shot from perimeter. Defender Jeff Terminisi collected the loose puck and passed it to Jesse Echternach, who broke out on the rush with Steve Cameron. Echternach found Cameron in the slot, and the junior corralled the pass and flicked it past Bartus in one smooth motion at 10:45.
Mercyhurst once again struck on the rush to close the second period. Mike Gurtler broke loose and cruised up the right wing, beating Bartus at 19:50 to put the Lakers up 2-0. Chris Risi and Charlie Carkin were credited with assists on the play.
Connecticut pulled to within one at 5:43 in the third. With the Lakers down a man, Brad Cooper swung the puck over to Chris Waterstradt, who blasted a shot from the right point that found its way through traffic and into the net.
“The truth is I thought we got what we deserved,” Mercyhurst head coach Rick Gotkin said. “I don’t think we played nearly well enough to beat a good UConn team tonight. I was disappointed with our overall effort. They’re much better then what their record shows. We almost stole one here and we didn’t but at the end of the day, I don’t think we deserved to.”
It was the 136th game of Coppola’s career, which is tied for fourth in program history. The forward owns a career scoring line of 22-22-44. Olinyk split time between the blue line and forward slots in his 91 career games entering the night, collecting nine goals and 10 assists.
“They’ve been great ambassadors for the program both on and off the ice,” Marshall said. “To have to go through what they did their senior year, they could have gone a different direction, but they’ve been great student-athletes and I couldn’t be happier for them to get a win in their last home game in front of their parents.”
Connecticut (6-25-3, 6-19-3 AHA) moves out of last place in Atlantic Hockey thanks to American International’s tie with Army. They will play at Bentley next Saturday in the opening round of the playoffs. Mercyhurst (15-18-3, 15-10-3) has already clinched a bye and home ice. Their final seeding with be determined by the results of the Sacred Heart-Air Force game.