HARTFORD, Conn. - UConn freshman Spencer Naas (Minnetonka, Minn.) scored the game-winning goal at 14:42 in the third period and sophomore Rob Nichols (Dallas, Texas) turned away 32 shots as the Huskies knocked off Merrimack 1-0 Tuesday night in a Hockey East match-up at the XL Center in Hartford. Nichols notched his third shutout of the season, all coming at home in the XL Center as the Huskies raised their Hockey East record to 6-7-4 on the season and with the two points move into a tie for seventh place in the standings with Northeastern.
Naas scored his team-leading 12th goal on the year and came-up with his fifth game-winning goal this season, a mark that now leads Hockey East. Nichols third shutout this season is second to Providence's Jon Gillies, who has four clean score sheets, among league goaltenders in shutouts this season.
The two teams skated to a scoreless first two periods with Merrimack holding a slim 12-11 edge in shots in the first. The Huskies got three power play chances in the first period, including a 4-on-3, and generated six shots with the extra skater but couldn't beat Merrimack goaltender Rasmus Tirronen. Naas had a pair of grade-A chances on the Huskies first power play but was denied on a back-hander in front and a wrist shot from the circle.
The Huskies put offensive pressure on the Warriors in the second, outshooting Merrimack 15-9 in the period. Senior Trevor Gerling (Seattle, Wash.) got the best look of the stanza as he used a some solid stick work to get free for a break-away on Tirronen but was stopped on the doorstep. Gerling gave the Huskies another great look with 12:30 left in the third, fighting his way behind the net to feed Patrick Kirtland (Rocky Hill, Conn.) crashing to the net but Tirronen again denied the Huskies.
UConn was finally able to break through with under six to play in regulation. Freshman Corey Ronan (Franklin, Mass.) beat his defender through the neutral zone and carried the puck up the right wing creating a odd-man rush for the Huskies. Ronan centered the puck to a hard charging Brent Norris (Ottawa, Ontario) who had a defender drapped all over him. Norris was able to deflect a backhanded pass to the left post where Naas was coming on to bury it before Tirronen could recover for what proved to be the game-winner.
Merrimack used their time-out at 18:12 and pulled Tirronen for the extra-skater. The Husky defense got the job done, allowing just one shot to get through to Nichols in the final 1:48 and he turned it away to finish off the shutout win.
UConn finished the night with a 36-32 edge in the shot department. For Norris, it was his third-straight game with a point.
The Huskies improved to 4-1-3 this season playing in the XL Center and will finish out the regular season with three of there final five games in the Hartford arena. UConn and Merrimack split their Hockey East season series, each winning on their own ice. The two teams played to a 2-2 tie in the first round of the Liberty Hockey Invitational in a non-league game in October.
Merrimack's Tirronen finished the night with 35 saves in net. The Warriors dropped to 14-11-3 overall and 5-9-2 in the league.
UConn is back in action this weekend when they face Northeastern in a home-and-home Hockey East series. UConn will travel to Boston on Friday night for a 7:00 pm start and host the Huskies on Saturday at the XL Center at 3:35 pm.
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