LOWELL, Mass. – UConn sophomore Joona Kunnas (Vantaa, Finland) had a career-high three points on a goal and two assists but a late comeback came up short as the Huskies fell to the No. 7 nationally ranked UMass Lowell River Hawks, 6-4, in a Hockey East match-up Wednesday night from the Tsongas Center. UConn suffered their third-straight loss and falls to 3-8-4 overall and 2-4-1 in Hockey East.
The Huskies were down 5-2 in the third period but rallied for a pair of goals to pull within a 5-4 with just over three minutes to play. UConn was able to get the extra attacker on the ice in the closing minute of action but couldn’t find the equalizer as UML’s Adam Chapie iced the game away with an empty netter with 11 seconds left for the 6-4 win. The River Hawks stayed unbeaten in Hockey East play, improving to 6-0-2 in the league and 9-3-3 overall with the win.
UMass Lowell got the first power play chance of the night on an Evan Richardson (Nanaimo, British Columbia) interference call at 5:40. The River Hawks wasted no time in capitalizing as Evan Campbell won the ensuing face-off, drawing it back to Dylan Zink at the point who fired a wrist shot past Rob Nichols (Dallas, Texas) just five seconds into the power play.
UML took a 2-0 lead at 10:47 when Jake Suter played the puck to fellow defenseman Chris Forney in the slot and the rookie blasted a slap shot through traffic and past a screened Nichols for his first career goal.
After not scoring on their first power play chance of the night, the Huskies finally broke through and ended a drought of 19-straight power plays without a goal on their second opportunity with the extra skater. Senior Trevor Gerling (Seattle, Wash.) drew a tripping penalty on Suter at 14:35 with some solid work behind the net.
Freshman Jesse Schwartz (Toronto, Ontario) dug the puck out from behind the net and fed Kunnas off the boards. Kunnas slid the puck across the blue line to senior Jacob Poe (Arlington, Texas) at the left circle and he let go a quick wrist shot that deflected off a UMass Lowell defender and past Kevin Boyle into the right corner of the net. It was Poe’s first goal of the season, and eighth of his career, cutting the lead to 2-1 at 14:53
UMass Lowell nearly made it 3-1 at the 11:57 mark as an Adam Chapie shot trickled through Nichols but the netminder was able to quickly turn and cover the puck just before it crossed the line. The River Hawks did break through for their third goal at the 13:51 mark as Michael Kapla fed a sleek cross ice pass to Michael Louria in the left circle who collected and buried it top-shelf before Nichols could recover.
The goal kicked off a three-goal run over the next 2:03 as UConn’s Kunnas followed with his first of the season at 14:39. The Huskies got a power play chance on a Chapie slashing call at 14:16. UML’s Michael Colantone tried to clear the puck deep in his zone but misfired as Kunnas picked it off just inside the blue line. He carried into the right circle and fired a wrist shot through traffic, beating Smith to slice the lead to 3-2. UML answered right back at 15:54 as Ryan Collins cleaned up a rebound of a Ryan McGrath slap shot at the left post, shoveling it past Nichols for his second of the season and a 4-2 lead.
UMass Lowell extended their lead to 5-2 at the 6:41 mark of the third as Evan Campbell picked up a shorthanded goal. Campbell picked up a loose puck off an UConn turnover in the neutral zone and carried in on Nichols, faking a pass then ripping a wrist shot for his fourth goal of the season.
The Huskies refused to go away and began to climb back in midway through the third. Richardson picked-up his third goal of the season at 11:45, taping in a feed from Kunnas at the left post. Schwartz started the play behind the net to earn his second assist of the night. UConn cut it to 5-4 at the 16:53 mark as Gerling scored his team-leading fifth goal of the season, burying a shot short side from the right circle from junior Shawn Pauly (Bellingham, Wash.).
UConn got Nichols off the ice for the extra skater with 1:03 left and was able to get some looks on Boyle in the closing seconds but couldn’t find the tying goal. Chapie was able to coral a loose puck and fire down ice from just outside the River Hawk zone for the empty netter to seal away the victory.
The Huskies finished the night 2-for-5 on the power play but allowed a goal on UML’s only chance and also gave up a shorthanded score. Nichols finished the night with 27 saves, 11 coming in the first period of action. Boyle collected the win for the River Hawks making 20 stops.
UConn will be off until the Frozen Holiday Classic on December 27th and 28th at the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport. The Huskies will take on Union at 6:00 pm on Saturday, December 27th, following the UMass Lowell and Sacred Heart match-up in game one.