HARTFORD – The University of Connecticut ice hockey team isn’t fazed by top 20 opponents – especially at home in the XL Center. The Huskies earned their third win of the season over the nationally ranked opponent with a 2-1 win over No. 11 Vermont Friday night in a Hockey East contest before 5,072 fans in Hartford.
Quinnipiac was ranked No. 15 when UConn earned a 4-1 win in October and Boston College was ranked No. 3 in the country when the Huskies prevailed in their home opener in Hartford about two weeks ago.
“I’m really proud of our club,” UConn head coach Mike Cavanaugh said. “We had a good first period and we were rewarded with a goal and a 1-0 lead. In the second period, they came out and took it to us. But we responded well. We didn’t give up a lot of second chances in front of the net. We stayed on our toes and responded well.”
UConn (3-5-4, 2-2-1 Hockey East) gave up just two shots in the final nine minutes and just five total in the third period as the Huskies beat the first place team in Hockey East.
Two freshmen from the state of Minnesota powered the Huskies. Johnny Austin and Spencer Naas each scored goalies for Connecticut.
UConn has little time to savor the victory. The Huskies host No. 3 Boston University (7-1-1, 5-1-1) on Saturday at 3:35 p.m. at the XL Center. About 1,000 tickets still remain for the game. The Terriers beat Maine, 3-2 in overtime last night in Boston.
The Huskies took a 1-0 lead on Vermont midway through the first period. UConn freshman Jeff Wight got a nice look near the right post but saw his shot turned away by Vermont goaltender Mike Santaguida. Sophomore Brent Norris found the rebound and was able to get the puck back to Wight moving behind the net.
The rookie forward fed a pass out to the point to classmate Austin, who fired on net through traffic, beating a screened Santaguida top-shelf for a 1-0 lead with 11 minutes left in the first period. It was Austin’s second goal of the season.
“I just got it at the point and threw it in there,” Austin said. “It was a little lucky. But when you throw pucks at the net, good things happen.”
Vermont (7-3-1, 5-3-1) tied the game early in the second period, converting on a Husky turnover deep in the zone. Defenseman Joona Kunnas tried to clear the puck but his pass was intercepted by Alexx Privitera along the right half boards. Privitera spun and centered a pass to Anthony Petruzzelli in the slot who whipped a wrist shot past UConn goalie Rob Nichols.
The Huskies grabbed the lead back at 10:52 when Naas poked home a rebound for his third of the year. UConn dug the puck out of the corner and freshman Kasperi Ojantakanen cut across the zone, flipping a pass back to defenseman Jacob Poe, who blasted a puck toward the right post. Santaguida got a pad on it but Naas was there to tap in the rebound for a 2-1 lead.
“That was a goal scorers goal,” Cavanaugh said. “He was around the net and his stick was on the ice. When your stick is on the ice, good things happen.”
UConn played well in the third period to preserve the win. Vermont tried to increase the pressure in the final two minutes. They called time out with 1:54 remaining and tried to to pull Santaguida for the extra skater but couldn’t get him off the ice until 20 seconds were left. The Huskies kept the defensive pressure on and kept UVM without a shot, clearing the puck in the final seconds to seal the win.
The vocal crowd wasn’t unnoticed by Cavanaugh. “It’s clearly an advantage for us,” he said. “The crowd is into the game. They’re our seventh man on the ice. It certainly gives us a home ice advantage at the XL.”
NOTES: UConn committed just one penalty – a five-minute major on Trevor Gerlin for cross checking in the first period. And the Huskies killed it off. … Nichols made 23 saves to earn his third win on the year while the Huskies out shot an opponent for just the third time, holding a 27-24 edge on the night. … BU and UConn played earlier this month and skated to a 4-4 tie in Boston.
UConn 2, Vermont 1
Vermont (7-3-1) 0 1 0 — 1
UConn (3-5-4) 1 1 0 — 2
Goals: Johnny Austin (C), Spencer Naas (C), Anthony Petruzzeli (V); Assists: Jeff Wight (C), Jacob Poe (C), Brent Norris (V), Alex Privitera (V); Saves: Rob Nichols (C) 23, Mike Santaguida (V) 25; Att. – 5,072