DURHAM, N.H. – The UConn men’s hockey team got a pair of goals from junior Kasperi Ojantakanen (Helsinki, Finland) on the way to a 5-3 win over New Hampshire at the Whittemore Center Friday night in the opening game of a weekend Hockey East series. The Huskies snapped a four-game losing streak and ended a six-game winless streak, picking up an important two points in the standings.
The Huskies improved to 7-10-4 in Hockey East and 11-14-8 overall and pulled into a tie with UNH for ninth place in the league standings. UConn is still in play for hosting an opening round playoff series if they can win on Saturday night and get a Vermont win over Merrimack.
New Hampshire needed just 15 seconds to grab a 1-0 lead as Jason Salvaggio opened the scoring in the opening seconds. The Huskies responded and scored four-straight, two in the first from sophomore Tage Thompson (Orange, Conn.) and Ojantakanen, one in the second from junior Spencer Naas (Minnetonka, Minn.) and one in the third from freshman Philip Nyberg (Linkoping, Sweden) to take a 4-1 lead.
UNH responded with goals at 12:30 and 16:28 to cut the UConn lead to 4-3 but the Huskies answered, fending off the Wildcats with an extra skater in the closing seconds by adding an Ojantakanen empty netter for a 5-3 win.
Naas finished his night with a goal and two assists while the Huskies ripped 50 shots on net in the win and were 1-for-3 on the power play. Freshman goaltender Adam Huska (Zvolen, Slovakia) stopped 41 shots to earn the win.
New Hampshire was 1-for-6 on the power play in the loss. Goaltender Danny Tirone made 45 saves for UNH.
Head Coach Mike Cavanaugh – “We didn’t start the game well giving up a goal on the first shift. But after that I was really happy with the way were able to sustain the fore check, get some turnovers and score a couple of quick goals to get back into it. I thought we played an excellent second period. I just thought we carried the play. Their goaltender was outstanding in keeping them in it. Toward the end, we played from our heels a bit and knew UNH wasn’t going to fold and naturally they made it a tight game. We were able to play disciplined on the 6-on-5, get a block and chip for the empty netter to seal it. Overall, I’m very happy with the effort from our guys.”
The Huskies have won three-straight against New Hampshire in the all-times series. The Wildcats still host a big lead in the series, 14-3-0.
UConn’s 50 shots on goal were a season high for the Huskies and also marked the first time since Jan. 10, 2012 that they put 50 or more shots on the board. UConn had 50 in a 5-5 tie with Sacred Heart.
Ojantakanen’s two-goal night marks a career-high for the junior. His three points (2g/1a) also marks a career-high. It was his third multi-point game this season and fourth of his career. He also ended a six-game streak without a goal.
Naas set a new career-high with three points (1g/2a) in the win. His two assists tied his previous career-high. He now has four multi-point games this season and eight for his career.
Thompson’s first period goal snapped a seven game scoreless streak, his longest of the season.
The Whittemore Center crowd had barely settled in when the Wildcats struck for the game’s first goal. UNH generated a turnover in the neutral zone and Michael McNicholas carried in on the right wing and centered to a trailing Salvaggio. With just 15 seconds off the clock, Salvaggio buried on past Huska on the stick side for a 1-0 lead.
The Huskies responded at 5:51 as Thompson scored his first goal in the last seven games. Sophomore Karl El-Mir (Montreal, Quebec) fed a pass to Thompson in the slot from behind the net. Thompson spun and fired a shot off a defenseman and past Tirone to the far post for his 18th of the season.
Ojantakanen gave UConn a 2-1 lead at 10:13, scoring his fifth of the season. Freshman Benjamin Freeman (Falmouth, Maine) sent a back pass from behind the net to a crashing Ojantakanen who one-timed it past Tirone to give the Huskies the lead.
A late surge in the second got the Huskies on the boards for the third time Friday night. Senior Evan Richardson (Nanaimo, British Columbia) broke the Huskies out on a 3-on-2, feeding Ojantakanen up the left wing. Ojantakanen dished to Naas breaking up the right wing who snapped a wrister past Tirone before he could recover for a 3-1 lead. It was Naas’ 15th of the season.
The Huskies pushed their lead to 4-1 at 8:54, scoring their first power play goal in three games. Rookie Nyberg took a feed from Naas in the neutral zone and broke to the right wing. The freshman defenseman buried a wrist shot past Tirone from the right circle for his first collegiate goal.
The Wildcats finally broke through on the power play as Kelleher scored his 21st of the season at 12:30 to cut the UConn lead to 4-2. UNH had been 0-for-5 on the power play until Kelleher’s strike. UNH pulled within 4-3 at 16:28 as Liam Blackburn pounded home the puck at the right post for his seventh of the season.
UNH pulled their goaltender for the extra skater with 1:31 left looking for the tying goal. The Huskies got a block at the point and Naas chipped the puck to Ojantakanen who cruised in for the empty net goal, his second of the night, to ice the game.
UConn and New Hampshire will close out the regular season on Saturday night at the XL Center. The Huskies will honor their senior class before the game. Opening face-off is scheduled for 7:35 pm.
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