By: Joe Pohoryles
BOSTON – The University of Connecticut Huskies (14-13-4, 11-8-2 HEA) held just a 2-1 lead over the Boston University Terriers (12-11-8, 9-7-5 HEA) entering the third period of Saturday night’s Hockey East match-up. The Terriers scored the most recent goal to cut the lead in half midway through the second period, and looked poised to make a comeback effort.
Then just 41 seconds into the period, UConn senior forward Alexander Payusov caught the Terriers deep in the zone as he retrieved the puck. The Canadian winger turned on the jets, rolling down the right side before uncorking a shot that right over BU freshman goaltender Ashton Abel and into the back of the net. Just like that, Payusov doubled his goal total as well as the Huskies’ lead, putting UConn ahead 3-1.
They would never look back. A four-goal third period from UConn earned the Huskies a resounding 6-1 victory. By sweeping the weekend, the Huskies now sit fifth in Hockey East with 24 points, leapfrogging the Terriers who sit at 23.
“I thought that third period might have been the best period that I’ve seen a UConn hockey team play since I’ve been here. I was just really proud of their effort and determination,” UConn head coach Mike Cavanaugh said.
The Huskies completely overpowered the Terriers after Payusov’s second goal that appeared to suck some fire out of BU’s side. Payusov went on to score again in the third to notch his first career hat trick. The senior’s season goal total went up to 12, giving him 20 total points. Junior forward Zac Robbins and senior forwards Benjamin Freeman and Justin Howell made up the rest of UConn’s goal scorers. Freeman and sophomore forward Carter Turnbull each tallied three assists.
“You gotta tip your cap to UConn, they played a terrific third period. They played a terrific game. They had a lot of purpose in what they did. They were strong, they were physical,” BU head coach Albie O’Connell said.
It was not just an offensive showcase, however. The Huskies made life difficult for the Terrier lines, locking down nearly every shooting lane throughout the night. The Terriers managed just five shots on goal in the first period and finished with just 21 shots for the entire game compared to UConn’s 38.
Any Terrier shot that did get through was managed expertly by UConn’s sophomore netminder Tomas Vomacka. Vomacka swallowed up 20 shots, and threw in several highlight reel saves to keep the likes of Patrick Harper and David Farrance at bay on a couple early chances.
“[Vomacka] made some good saves, but I thought we played some pretty good team defense. I didn’t think we gave up a lot of Grade A chances, but when we needed him to make a save, he made a save,” Cavanaugh said.
The Terriers’ lone goal came on a power play 11 minutes into the second period. Farrance found freshman forward Trevor Zegras outside the face-off circle to Vomacka’s right, and Zegras whipped it in to senior captain Patrick Curry, who zipped the puck past Vomacka’s left skate and into the bottom corner to get his team-leading 17th goal of the season.
There was some controversy on UConn’s second goal, as Payusov grabbed the rebound off his own shot and jammed it in as Freeman’s hip collided with Abel’s head on the edge of the crease. The officials spent about two minutes reviewing the goal before determining there was no goalie interference. The score remained 2-0, and while the final score showed a lopsided scoreline, it was a pivotal point in the game.
“I thought the second goal they scored was not a goal; I thought [Abel] got interfered with. I thought they made the wrong call, especially watching that video. He clearly got interfered with… didn’t change the game, though, but it was a big goal,” O’Connell said.
With the final three match-ups of the regular season coming against strong crosstown rivals in the Boston College Eagles and the Northeastern Huskies twice, wins will have to be hard-earned in order to maintain position in the Hockey East playoffs. The Terriers are bumped back to sixth, but just seven points separate first place BC and the tied-for-seventh place Providence Friars, so there could be a lot of shuffling in the final two weeks.
A win tonight could have helped BU greatly in the standings, but now the Terriers will have to push extra hard to avoid dropping out of the Hockey East playoff picture.