PITTSBURGH — The Connecticut Huskies earned a hard-fought 3-2 conference victory at the 84 Lumber Arena Friday night, holding off a furious third-period charge from the Robert Morris Colonials. It was a game that had a little something for everyone, including some bone crunching checks, highlight reel goals, huge saves, and high levels of tension and drama to the very end.
The showdown opened to a torrid pace, with both teams revealing their intent on putting their opponent through the boards as often as possible. With the physical tone set early on, the Huskies went to work on slowing down the skilled Colonials forwards by taking away time and space for the bulk of the first 40 minutes. The effort paid off, as the Colonials couldn’t generate consistent offensive pressure for great stretches of the game, while Connecticut found themselves the recipients of some good old fashioned puck luck.
“Going into tonight’s game, we talked about what it would take to beat a quality opponent like Robert Morris,” said Connecticut interim coach David Berard. “We needed to play hard, we had to execute, and we had to stay out of the box. And I thought for the first two periods we did that. Up until recently, we’d been playing good hockey but we just weren’t scoring and we had a lot of bad bounces go against us and tonight we just happened to have a lucky bounce go for us.”
After starting Connecticut goaltender Matt Grogan turned away Colonials forward Scott Jacklin’s breakaway attempt early in the first, the Huskies opened the scoring at 3:49 of the first when a broken play, assisted by a collision between two Colonials in neutral ice, turned into a three-on-one that freshman Shawn Pauly finished from the slot to give Connecticut the early advantage.
From that point on, the Colonials found themselves on the verge of turning the tide in their favor. However, for every shift that resulted in a scoring chance, a penalty seemed to follow. Robert Morris ended up being short-handed seven times on the night, and had their penalty killing streak stopped at 34 at 12:36 of the second when Huskies captain Shawn Ambrosie lifted a puck high in the air and just over the blue line to an awaiting Brant Harris, who flagged it down with the glove and then snapped a rising shot which he tucked just under the crossbar past Colonials goaltender Eric Levine to put the Huskies in the driver’s seat with a 2-0 lead.
The start of the third saw the Colonials finally achieve the consistency they were looking for. Robert Morris dominated the shot total and tilted the ice for the last frame, and even got to rebounds that had just skipped beyond their sticks all game long. Senior forward Adam Brace found one such rebound at 1:48 of the third period, and he slipped it past Grogan to cut the Huskies lead in half.
Nearly four minutes later, Connecticut found a way to put away another power-play tally as a puck that seemed destined to turn into a short-handed chance for the Colonials turned into a goalmouth scramble that Ambrosie put past Levine.
The Colonials would not put the head down however, and on yet another penalty kill, sophomore forward Cody Wydo took matters into his own hands as he made a mad dash down the left wing boards, making a sharp cut to the net where he patiently teed up a backhander that had Grogan completely beaten with nearly 10 minutes left in regulation.
The stage was set for an exciting finish, but Grogan stood tall for the Huskies, making key saves to preserve the victory, including a robbery of Colonials defenseman Jimmy Geerin with the extra attacker on the ice.
“We were playing catch up all night,” said Colonials coach Derek Schooley. “I thought we played really well. I loved our compete level tonight, and I thought we worked extremely hard. We did a lot of little things well, but they just capitalized on one more goal than we did. It’s disappointing.”
The Huskies win was the first career win for interim coach David Berard, who took over following coach Bruce Marshall’s resignation. The Colonials and Huskies finish their weekend series Saturday at 7:05 p.m.