The University of Connecticut Huskies stole home. However, this story isn’t about baseball.
For the second consecutive year, the Wildcats and Huskies faced off for a home-and-home regular season finale. With a home-ice seed for the opening round of the Hockey East tournament hanging in the balance, UConn once again ruined the ‘Cats’ chances of playing one more game at the Whittemore Center this season. UNH went winless on the weekend, by way of a 5-3 loss on senior night in Durham, followed by a 4-2 loss in Hartford the following night.
UNH finishes the regular season at No. 10 overall in Hockey East with a 7-11 conference record. The Wildcats will battle Merrimack College in the opening round of the Hockey East playoffs.
In now four consecutive games, the Wildcats have been the first to score, yet have come out defeated in all four contests. Head coach Dick Umile explains that the team is getting chances, but are not capitalizing, however.
“We fell behind 4-1 I mean the guys battled, but I don’t have any answers to be honest,” Umile said. “We even had chances five-on-five and we blew it by the net. We struggled to score.”
Senior forward Tyler Kelleher made more headway into his Hobey Baker Award campaign with two goals on the weekend, while at the same time capturing the Hockey East scoring title. Kelleher leads the conference with 37 points.
Four seniors, Dylan Maller, Kelleher, Jamie Hill and captain Matias Cleland, played in their final home game at the Whittemore Center Friday night. After an opening goal from Jason Salvaggio only 16 seconds into the game, the UConn offense took over. A total of 50 shots were registered from UConn, five found the back of the net. Tage Thompson, Kasperi Ojantakanen, Spencer Naas and Philip Nyberg propelled the Huskies to a crucial win over the Wildcats 5-3. Two goals in the late half of the third period from Kelleher and Liam Blackburn were not enough to overcome the deficit and the ‘Cats dropped their third consecutive game to UConn.
“It’s kind of hard to come into the third down goals on most nights like that. We’ve done a good job of battling back and keeping ourselves in games,” Blackburn said. “But come playoff time, that’s probably not going to be acceptable. That’s how we’re going to get sent home.”
The following night, the ‘Cats needed a win over the Huskies and help from the Vermont Catamounts to secure the No. 8 seed and home ice. Both teams traded goals in a strong battle for playoff positioning. However, the Huskies stood tall in the end, sealing the weekend sweep with an empty-net goal in the final minute to secure the 4-2 victory.
Blackburn continued to have the hot stick over the weekend with a goal to his credit, along with Kelleher on the powerplay. The ‘Cats evened the score at 2-2 with 15:52 remaining in the first period. UNH surrendered the game-winner in the third period as Evan Richardson took advantage of a turnover and regained the lead for UConn. That would prove to be the difference as a 4-2 final resulted in UNH’s third consecutive loss.
UNH will meet the Merrimack College Warriors in an opening round rematch of last season. The ‘Cats head down to Lawler Rink for game one of a best-of-three series Friday at 7 p.m.