The University of Connecticut bounced back from a disappointing defeat in Amherst with an emphatic 8-2 victory over visiting UMass in their Hockey East return match Tuesday night at the XL Center in Hartford.
It was the fourth win in the last five games for the resurgent Huskies, who have turned their season in a positive direction after starting slowly.
It was the most goals ever scored by the Huskies in a Hockey East game and also the most since an 8-1 rout of AIC in the final season of Atlantic Hockey play, coach Mike Cavanaugh's first in charge five seasons ago.
The win lifted the Huskies into a fourth-place Hockey East tie on 11 points with Boston University but that's somewhat misleading as UConn (7-11-2 overall, 5-7-1 Hockey East) has played more games than anyone else in the league. BU has two games in hand while all of the teams below the Huskies have at least three games in hand.
UConn has finished Hockey East play for the pre-exam, holiday portion of the season. The Huskies will host Colgate Friday night (7:05 p.m., XL Center) but that's a non-conference game to send the team into the break.
"The final score isn't really indicative of the whole game," Cavanaugh said at the post-game media conference after the big win. "UMass was carrying the play and Adam [goalie Huska] made some big saves before Wighty [Jeff Wight] got us going."
Wight netted a pair of first-period goals shortly after Huska beat UMass ace Cale Makar on a short-handed breakaway, a stop that Cavanaugh termed "huge" in the context of the period.
The first-period swing in UConn's direction began at the 9:26 mark when Wight had time and space to the right of goalie Ryan Wischow to turn and slide a rebound to the far low corner of the cage.
Just 119 seconds later, it was Alexander Payusov collecting another rebound, this off a shot from Max Letunov, then Wight struck again at 13:04, shooting from the right wing circle.
The onslaught continued as, for the second straight home game, the Huskies chased the starting goalie in just 20 minutes.
Matt Murray replaced Wischow but just 47 seconds after he had stepped between the pipes Max Kalter found Brian Rigali with a perfect pass to make it 4-0 and UMass (8-7, 3-4) was effectively finished for the night.
Cavanaugh said he particularly liked that second-period effort, especially after what he called "below average" middle sessions with similar 3-0 leads against Vermont and Northeastern in the past two weeks.
"I especially liked the energy we showed in the second period, which had been giving us trouble. To score on the first shift set the tone," he said. "We had played on our heels against Vermont and Northeastern and it was a point of emphasis tonight to be on our toes."
Benjamin Freeman got No. 5 after he skated behind the net before beating Murray to the far post with the help of an assist from Corey Ronan before Freeman had the freedom of the XL Center 11:31 into the middle period to make it 6-0.
Letunov potted a rebound 4:04 into the third period to give UConn its 7-spot before Huska lost his shutout when Brett Boeing got UMass on the board. Spencer Naas replied almost immediately, beating the third UMass goalie, Brad Arvanitis, just 33 seconds after Boeing's tally.
Rookie Bradley Stone replaced Huska for the final five minutes, making his Husky debut. He was beaten by Austin Plevy with 40 seconds left.
â€” Jerry Trecker