NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. – The UConn men’s hockey team played their first-ever Hockey East game Saturday night at Merrimack College and carried a 1-0 lead deep into the third period before the Warriors tied the game with 33.1 seconds left and scored again in overtime to deal the Huskies a 2-1 defeat. Merrimack’s Brett Seney scored the game-tying goal with the extra skater and Humpus Gustafsson provided the game-winner at 2:52 in the extra session in front of a sold out crowd of 2,549 at Lawler Rink.
UConn sophomore goaltender Rob Nichols (Dallas, Texas) turned in a career-high 41 saves in the loss as the Huskies fall to 0-2-1 overall and 0-1-0 in Hockey East to start the season.
Nichols made 15 saves apiece in the second and third periods and was just 33 seconds away from earning the shutout win before Seney’s late extra-skater goal tied it. The Huskies held a 9-8 edge on shots after the first period but where outshot 35-9 over the final two periods and overtime.
Freshman defenseman David Drake (Naperville, Ill.), playing his first collegiate game, provided the Huskies with a 1-0 lead late in the first period thanks to his first career goal.
The Huskies caught an early break earning a power play chance just 12 seconds into the action when Merrimack’s Brian Christie was called for a cross-check but came up empty on their first opportunity with the extra skater. UConn went to the box for the first time at the 10:02 mark as Drake was whistled for a slash. The Huskies kept the Warriors off the scoreboard helped by a big save from Nichols who fought off a screen in front to stop a blast from the point.
UConn got another power play chance at 13:32 on a slashing call on Justin Mansfield. Freshman Will Golonka (Carlisle, Mass.) had a quality scoring chance just before the end of the power play but misfired at the left post. Looking headed for a scoreless first period, UConn battled in the corner to keep possession and then struck for the first goal with just 28.1 seconds left on the clock. A mishandled puck by the Merrimack defense set up Drake just outside the top of the left circle. Drake collected the loose puck and blasted on net, getting a deflection off a Merrimack defender to beat Rasmus Tirronen for a 1-0 lead.
Merrimack turned up the offensive pressure in the second period and kept it on for the rest of the night. The Warriors started the second stanza outshooting the Huskies 11-1 over the first 10 minutes of action and 15-3 for the period but couldn’t solve Nichols. UConn got a look at extending their lead with a 3-on-1 chance with just over eight minutes left as Golonka carried into the zone on the right wing, pulled up and fed a streaking Brent Norris (Ottawa, Ontario) but his shot was blocked by a sliding Merrimack defender and cleared away. UConn killed off a late Derek Pratt (Mount Hermon, Mass.) tripping period to end the second still leading 1-0.
The third period proved more of the same as Merrimack dominated possession continuing to pepper Nichols. UConn looked to tack on another goal just 2:30 into the period as freshman Corey Ronan (Franklin, Mass.) got free up the right win and unleashed a slap shot from the circle that Tirronen fought off to keep it at 1-0.
Merrimack got a power play at 13:18 on an Evan Richardson (Nanaimo, British Columbia) tripping call and got five shots off on Nichols while hitting the pipe twice before UConn could get back to full-strength clinging to a 1-0 lead.
With a minute left Merrimack pulled Tirronen for the extra skater and continued to push the puck deep looking for the equalizer. The puck found the stick of Kyle Singleton in the slot who tried to throw on net but a deflection left a chance for UConn to clear. The Huskies couldn’t get the puck out and Seney was able to stuff home the game-tying goal at the right post with 33.1 left.
Both teams took penalties in the final seconds of regulation leading to a four-on-four hockey to start overtime. The Warriors outshot UConn 5-0 in the extra session and Gustafsson was able to collect a loose rebound off the boards and bury it for the win. Merrimack improves to 3-0-0 to start their season with the come-back victory.
UConn and Merrimack both went 0-for-4 on the power play Saturday night. Tirronen stopped 17 shots to earn the win in net.
Before Saturday night’s game there was a ceremonial puck drop with Hockey East Commissioner Joe Bertagna along with UConn Director of Athletics Warde Manuel and Merrimack Athletic Director Jeremy Gibson along with captains for each team to mark the first official league game for the Huskies.
The Huskies are back on the ice Tuesday night when they take on in-state rival and #13/14 nationally ranked Quinnipiac at the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport. Opening face-off is scheduled for 7:00 pm.