NEWARK, N.J. – The UConn men’s hockey team got goals from freshmen Spencer Naas (Minnetonka, Minn.) and Kasperi Ojantakanen (Helsinki, Finland) and 38 saves from sophomore goaltender Rob Nichols (Dallas, Texas) on the way to a 2-2 tie with Merrimack College Friday night in the Liberty Hockey Invitational at the Prudential Center. The Huskies advanced to Sunday’s championship game thanks to a 2-0 shootout win.
The Huskies held 1-0 and 2-1 leads against the Warriors but were plagued by penalties in allowing a pair of power play goals. UConn took a season-high nine penalties on the night as Merrimack finished two-of-eight on the power play. The Warriors outshot the Huskies 40-22 with 18 shots coming on the power play.
In a non-conference game and the second of three meetings with Merrimack this season, the Huskies jumped out to a 1-0 lead at 6:14 of the first period. UConn junior Kyle Huson (Parker, Colo.) picked the puck off the left boards and fed across ice to senior line-mate Jacob Poe (Arlington, Texas) in the right circle. Poe fired on net with Merrimack netminder Rasmus Tirronen making the stop.
Junior Joey Ferriss (Novi, Mich.) got his stick on the loose rebound before Naas was able to poke the puck past Tirronen at the right post for his second goal of the season. The Huskies lost junior captain Patrick Kirtland (Rocky Hill, Conn.) for the night thanks to a five-minute major, game-misconduct boarding call at 12:58. UConn killed off the five-minute power play and finished the first period with an 8-4 edge on shots and a 1-0 lead.
The Huskies were whistled for six penalties in the second period, five coming before the 10 minute mark of the stanza. UConn was able to kill off the early penalties in the second but Merrimack found the tying goal on a late tripping call to Ojantakanen at 17:54. Senior defenseman Dan Kolomatis ripped a shot through traffic from the right circle and junior Vinny Scotti found a loose puck rebound at the left post, banging it home for his first of the season to tie the game at 1-1 at 18:33.
Merrimack outshot UConn 21-4 in the second period, 12 of their shots coming on their five power plays. The Huskies got off to a great start to the third period, going up 2-1 just 23 seconds into play.
Tirronen played the puck behind his net but turned it over when his pass was picked off by Ojantakanen midway up the left boards. The rookie forward wasted little time, immediately firing a shot just under the crossbar for his first collegiate goal and a 2-1 lead.
The Huskies ninth penalty of the night came at the 5:00 minute mark of the third when sophomore Ryan Segalla (Rockland, Mass.) was called for a five-minute major for interference. The Warriors took advantage 1:29 into the power play as Kolomatis buried his first goal of the season. Junior Brian Christie provided the pass from left circle to Kolomatis at the point and the senior defenseman blasted home a one-time through traffic, knotting the game at 2-2.
UConn got a good look in the closing minutes of the third as senior Trevor Gerling (Seattle, Wash.) ripped a shot on net through traffic, leading to a scrum in front looking for a rebound. Tirronen kept the Huskies out and finally cleared the puck.
After a scoreless overtime, the two teams went to a shootout to determine who would play for the tournament title on Sunday. The Huskies shot first with Evan Richardson (Nanaimo, British Columbia) getting stopped. Ojantakanen buried his attempt glove side and junior Shawn Pauly (Bellingham, Wash.) scored stick side to clinch the victory. Nichols turned away both shots he faced in the shootout.
UConn take on the Yale Bulldogs in the title game of the tournament on Sunday. Opening face-off in the championship game Sunday is scheduled for 4:00 pm from the Prudential Center.