LOWELL, Mass. -- Games in Hockey East are battles every night, but sometimes teams just have another’s number.
For the UConn Huskies, it seems like UMass Lowell is that team.
The fourth-ranked River Hawks dominated the third period with a 10-4 shot advantage, but UConn freshman Adam Huska made ten of his 31 saves in the frame to secure a 3-2 win Friday night at Tsongas Center.
“The last four times we’ve played Lowell have been one-goal games, and that was another typical UConn-Lowell game,” Huskies head coach Mike Cavanaugh said. “I was proud of the effort of our kids because I think that’s an excellent team. I think they’ve been the Hockey East here now for the last four or five years.”
Sophomore Tage Thompson scored two of UConn’s three goals, including the game-winner 10:32 into the second period. The St. Louis Blues prospect leads the Huskies with ten goals, reaching that mark with his third multi-goal game this season.
The win was UConn’s fourth straight against the River Hawks since Jan. 2015 after it captured a sweep of last season’s home-and-home series.
The visitors jumped on the scoreboard just 1:57 into the contest as junior Spencer Naas collected a loose puck just outside the left circle after Lowell freshman goaltender Tyler Wall stopped his initial shot and another try from freshman Justin Howell. The goal was Naas’ sixth of the season.
“All game long, maybe with the exception of the beginning of the third period where I thought we turned the puck over and gave them some momentum, I was pretty happy with the effort from our guys,” Cavanaugh said. “It’s always great to get that start and I think it energizes the bench, but it’s more important how you’re playing.”
Freshman Colin O’Neill answered with his first goal as a River Hawk at the 5:34 mark, tipping home classmate Ryan Lohin’s point shot from just outside UConn’s Adam Huska’s crease.
The teams traded goals once more before the first period came to an end as Thompson stole a puck at the offensive blue line, settled it down and fired a snapper through Wall’s legs. Sophomore defenseman Miles Gendron was credited with the lone assist.
Just over three minutes later, at 15:27, O’Neill scored his second goal of the game. Junior defenseman Tyler Mueller took the initial shot on Huska, but O’Neill got to the front of the net and banged home a rebound from the left crease.
“We wanted to get net traffic on the goalie,” O’Neill said. “We talked about that leading up to this weekend, so the first one I just put a shot towards the net and I just got a stick on it. The second one, it was a good point shot by Muells … and I was just right there at the side of the net, it came right to me and I banked it in.”
While Lowell held a 14-10 shot advantage in the first period and finished the game ahead by a 31-22 mark in that category, head coach Norm Bazin’s club found itself playing from behind for just the fourth time this season.
After a two-week layoff, it was not the greatest recipe for success.
“It wasn’t the effort that we were looking for,” Bazin said. “We got caught chasing the game. We responded to their two goals by coming back twice, but couldn’t get a third one. It’s unacceptable to have an effort where you don’t come out with such urgency after such a big break, but it happened and we paid for it.”
Thompson’s winning goal just past the halfway mark of the contest came off a feed from linemate Max Letunov. He crashed into the offensive zone on the right side and beat Wall from just outside the right circle.
Huska stood tall as Lowell carried the play in the final frame, especially as the River Hawks had a two-man advantage for the final 1:18.
“You’re going to face adversity in games, and when bounces don’t go our way you have to stay positive instead of folding,” Thompson said. “We had two penalties called on us late in the game, but the way reacted and responded to that helped us win the game.”