Bob Herpen: UConn records Whale of a victory over Boston College


The old English saying goes: “Remember, remember the Fifth of November” as a warning to the people that the British Monarchy was under threat of upheaval from lawless Catholics 400 years ago and the rebellion successfully quashed with brutality and quickness.

What Connecticut (2-4-2) did on Wednesday night against the Boston College Eagles wasn’t exactly a mission of vengeance to uphold the honor of the Crown, but for the Huskies players, coaching staff and the 8,089 who witnessed the program’s first-ever home game as a member of Hockey East at XL Center in Hartford, there was a lot to stash away for future reference and recall.

Like putting a three-game winless streak (0-2-1) to rest against the No. 3 program in the country.

Like 35 saves from sophomore goaltender Rob Nichols.

Like holding the Eagles scoreless on five power-play opportunities with sound positional play and shot blocking acumen despite giving up 15 shots while shorthanded.

Like a supercharged crowd roaring with delight at every chance, who rose to give their home team multiple standing ovations, including a prolonged deafening salute at the buzzer.

Sure, Boston College (4-3-0) might have been looking ahead two days to a prime-time matchup against Jack Eichel and bitter rivals Boston University, but the loss was a refresher for last year’s Frozen Four entrant that nothing comes easy in this stacked conference.

Evan Richardson’s first-period tally stood as the lone, and winning, marker as UConn shocked BC, 1-0, for a historic signature win in the first-ever meeting between the hockey programs.

Trailing by a goal but working on an increased territorial advantage through the second period, BC wasted 42 seconds’ worth of a 5-on-3 early in the third period thanks to UConn’s penalty killers active in the passing and shooting lanes, and Demko had react instantaneously to flash his left pad on a tap-in from Trevor Gerling before the six-minute mark.

The Eagles’ attackers fizzled on another advantage which was cut short by Ryan Fitzgerald’s hooking call, and seemed to have little energy thereafter as their ungracious hosts went for the kill.

Due to heavy forechecking pressure, the Eagles were not allowed an extra skater until 63 seconds remained. Nichols put an end to a scrum in front with 15.4 on the clock and the visitors failed to squeeze off one more chance to the goal before the puck slid just out of reach and beyond their blue line.

Demko had to be sharp early, with two saves on point-blank chances in the game’s opening three shifts against a charged-up Huskies offense.

Kasperi Ojantakanen missed an open shot from the right side with just under five minutes played while UConn enjoyed the game’s first power play, and kept up the intensity through the first half of the first period, gaining an 8-2 shot edge.

Demko’s next test came from a media timeout on the following shift, as Ojantakanen tried to sneak a stuffer in from the right post, but the Eagles’ netminder tracked the loose puck and smothered it with the blocker in the crease.

BC’s Fitzgerald sat for roughing at the end of the play, and it was a former Eagle who followed Cavanaugh down I-84 that picked up the game’s first goal. Richardson emerged from the left circle and beat Demko on a wrister to the far side at the 11:32 mark to an explosion of cheers from the partisan crowd and the strains of “Brass Bonanza.”

Gerling, who came up empty on three shots, was later left raising his hands to his head and covering his helmet after Demko robbed him from the right side with 46 seconds left in the opening period.

Nichols drew calls from the crowd for the first time when he did the splits to deny a blind backhander from Alex Tuch which seemed destined for the net on BC’s first advantage of the contest when Ryan Tyson was called for hooking 80 seconds in. Nichols again found a spate of applause just before the five-minute mark when Destry Straight broke in alone just out of the penalty box, stumbled in the slot and pushed a shot aiming for the five-hole to no avail.

Demko took his turn on the Huskies’ subsequent power play around the midpoint of regulation with Straight off for holding, making back-to-back stops on Shawn Pauly and David Drake in close and four in all to keep the visitors down only one.

Nichols had one more solid stop in his arsenal late in the second, with Quinn Smith right on top of his crease waiting for an Ian McCoshen rebound. The Huskies’ netminder finished with 16 saves over the middle 20 minutes. Game Notes

The win was UConn’s fourth over a ranked team in program history and the home team also subdued its highest-ranked opponent ever.

Boston College’s national-best streak of 103 straight games with at least one goal came to a halt.

The Eagles boasted a 44-26 advantage on faceoffs, with Adam Gilmour winning 13-of-20 attempts and Fitzgerald posting 12 wins in 21 tries. Pauly and Ojantakanen each won nine draws, with the former losing 10 and the latter coming up short on 12 attempts.

More to come…

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