BRIDGEPORT, CONN. -- The University of Connecticut learned from its mistakes against Merrimack and made sure not to make them again. Just three days after a heartbreaking overtime loss to the Warriors, UConn played to win instead of not to lose and came away with a 4-1 victory over Quinnipiac at the Webster Bank Arena.
It was the first win of the season for a Huskies team that once again received outstanding goaltending from sophomore Rob Nichols who made 36 saves.
"This was the first game that we played and competed for a full 60 minutes. I was really proud of our effort tonight," said UConn head coach Mike Cavanaugh, who noted his team's heartbreaking results in the first three games. "Our goaltender played outstanding," added the second year bench boss.
The Huskies did a good job of getting sticks in lanes, blocking shots and limiting odd man rushes, but when the defensemen did let their guard down, Nichols was there to bail them out. Three of his finest saves of the night came on transition opportunities for the Bobcats. He made a real nice glove save on an odd man rush and also flashed the right pad for a beauty of a kick save a few minutes later.
"We blocked a lot of shots and tried to eliminate their time and space. That was a big difference," said Nichols.
"Rob Nichols was awesome tonight," said Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold. "Give credit to UConn. They played well enough to win," added a frustrated Pecknold.
Perhaps no UConn player was more instrumental in protecting Nichols and playing a complete game than senior captain Patrick Kirtland.
"I think Pat Kirtland is probably our most fundamental player. He does all the little things you need to do to win hockey games. He's been doing that for two years now. That's why he was elected captain because of how he leads on the ice," said Cavanaugh.
As the Huskies have done in three of their four games this season, Cavanaugh's team drew first blood. UConn held a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes.
With Bobcats freshman Canon Pieper in the box for cross checking, UConn capitalized on the first power play of the night at the 15:13 mark. The Huskies struggled to gain entry into the zone the first two tries, but were finally able to set up in late in the man advantage. QU's penalty killers collapsed which allowed Ryan Segalla to feed Jacob Poe on a cross point pass. Poe's wrist shot on net deflected off Evan Richardson and into the net for the 1-0 UConn lead.
UConn increased its lead to 2-0 before the end of the first period on a fortuitous bounce and strong forecheck pressure. The puck caromed off the end boards and right out in front. Shawn Pauly took the first whack at it before Trevor Gerling shoved it home with 37 seconds to play in the opening frame. Spencer Naas picked up the secondary assist.
Quinnipiac cut the deficit in half and turned the momentum in its direction on the first shift of the second period. After receiving a pass in the neutral zone from Matthew Peca, Tanner MacMaster cut into the zone and shot the puck on net. The puck was blocked but deflected off a driving Sam Anas and past the right skate of UConn goalie Rob Nichols.
The Huskies regained their two goal lead on a real nice sequence a little over midway through the second period. Freshman Corey Ronan used his speed to catch up to a Tyler Cooke lead pass. Ronan beat out QU defenseman Connor Clifton and firmly sent a centering feed to Kirtland. He gathered the puck in his skates before quickly snapping off a low shot along the ice that beat Bobcats goaltender Sean Lawrence.
Freshman Jesse Schwartz picked up his first collegiate goal with the Bobcats goal empty. To cap off his night, Nichols picked up his first collegiate assist on the play that gave the Huskies a 4-1 lead with 39 seconds to play.
Unlike in the 2-2 tie at Penn State and the 2-1 overtime loss at Merrimack, the Huskies continued to play aggressively and didn't seem to panic.
"We played not to lose in those games. Tonight we played to win," said Gerling. "We talked about taking this obstacle head first and going at them. We did a great job of doing that for 60 minutes."
UConn (1-2-1) returns to action Saturday night with a tough road contest at Gutterson Field House against the University of Vermont.
Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on Twitter @JeffCoxSports.