WORCESTER, Mass. — Holy Cross delighted the jam-packed home crowd on Friday night, defeating Connecticut 2-1 in a gritty, chippy game in front of 2,016 at the Hart Center.
With the win, the Crusaders remained undefeated, improving to 3-0-0 (2-0-0 AHA), while UConn dropped to 0-2-0 (0-1-0 AHA).
It was clear from the outset that it would be a physical game, with both teams exchanging thundering hits along the boards. The chippy play led to a plethora of power-play chances for both sides (six for UConn, seven for Holy Cross).
The Crusaders took advantage late on a man-advantage, as Kyle Fletcher wired a loose puck top-shelf at 14:39 in the third period, proving to be the game-winning goal.
“We needed to start winning more battles along the walls,” Holy Cross coach Paul Pearl said, “[UConn was] really strong against the wall, I thought. We kind of met that in the third period.”
Holy Cross won those battles for the puck along the boards for most of the game, especially in the third period. In addition, they took advantage of multiple defensive miscues and giveaways by the UConn defense, peppering 17 shots on goal in the third period. UConn goalie Garrett Bartus (34 saves) was tested multiple times from close range.
For the Crusaders, the power play may have been 1-for-7 on the night, but it was the most consistent part of their game, and contributed directly to the final goal.
“We had some troubles last week at Clarkson, we had no shots on four power plays [and] that was definitely a focus during the week,” Pearl said. “Their goaltender played very well, our goaltender played very well, it was just a good hockey game.”
The Crusaders jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first period after Castan Sommer unleashed a slapshot from the blue line just past the outstretched toe pad of Bartus. But as the period came to a close, UConn picked up the pace, neutralizing the Crusaders’ breakout plays.
As a result, the Huskies dominated play in the second period, intercepting multiple Holy Cross stretch passes to establish possession, then aggressively forechecking and cycling the puck to continue the pressure. If not for the consistent shot blocking from the Crusaders, UConn may have had a chance to lead the game.
The pressure paid off late in the second period as Jordan Sims tipped a deflection from Alex Gerke’s shot from the blue line into the back of the net for his first goal of the season, tying the score 1-1 at 18:50 into the period.
Despite some nervy moments and the UConn goal to tie the game, Holy Cross goalie Matt Ginn made some key saves late, stopping 22 shots en route to the victory. The offense did the rest, as late penalties tilted the ice in the favor of the Crusaders.
“We took penalties in the third period and that burns you out,” Connecticut coach Bruce Marshall said. “I told our team I felt we should have at least gotten a point out of tonight. We made improvements since last Friday, so that’s the positive. [We'll] think about the things that took away from getting the point, if not two points.”
Connecticut next has the daunting task of hosting No. 8-ranked Union, while Holy Cross continues conference play hosting Army tomorrow night.