Notre Dame drops Hockey East opener to UConn

Steve Lowe Tribune Correspondent
ND Insider

SOUTH BEND — The chances were there Thursday night for Notre Dame, but the bounces weren't.

The Irish outshot visiting Connecticut by nearly 2-to-1, but the Huskies took advantage of their opportunities and doubled up ND on the Compton Family Ice Arena scoreboard, 4-2, in the Hockey East opener for both teams.

Freshman goaltender Adam Huska stopped 47 of Notre Dame's 49 shots, and Maxim Letunov scored a pair of goals to lead UConn (4-1-3, 1-0-0 HEA). No. 6 Notre Dame (3-3-1, 0-1-0) has now lost two straight and is winless in its last three.

"They doubled us up in shots, but I was happy with the way we competed," said UConn coach Mike Cavanaugh. "I thought that was a gutsy win."

The Irish outshot UConn, 49-25, but finished 0-for-6 on the power play, including three man-advantages in the third period when they were looking for a game-tying goal.

"It's not like we didn't have chances to score," said Irish coach Jeff Jackson. "You've got to give their goaltender credit, of course, but we need to bear down on our chances."

Notre Dame got off to a strong start, possessing the puck for long stretches and not allowing a UConn shot until more than nine minutes had passed, but the first period took a sour turn for the Irish with 4:48 to go.

That was when freshman defenseman Tory Dello was slammed hard into the boards and lay facedown on the ice for several minutes. A wobbly Dello had to be helped off the ice by two teammates.

Less than a minute later, Huskies defenseman Justin Howell redirected a long floater from Joona Kunnas near the blue line, and two minutes after that, Letunov added a power play goal on UConn's only man-advantage of the night, and the Irish were suddenly staring at a 2-0 deficit.

"Those bounces kind of drained us a little bit," said Irish center Jake Evans. "We had a lot of opportunities to score, too, but we ran into a hot goalie."

The Irish again blitzed the Huskies in the second period, recording the first 16 shots on goal to open the frame, but failed to capitalize on a pair of power plays.

"We had wide open nets, we had pucks on the goal line that we couldn't handle," Jackson said. "It was frustrating because I thought we actually played pretty well."

Dello returned to the ice and finally got ND on the board with his first collegiate goal when his long wrist shot found the top right corner at 12:50 of the second.

Notre Dame again failed to capitalize on a power play early in the third period, and UConn again took advantage of an opportunity when Karl El-Mir whacked a floating puck past Irish goalie Cal Petersen to make it 3-1 with 13 minutes to play.

"We were opportunistic tonight," Cavanaugh said, "but hey, that's hockey."

Evans kept it close thanks to a rebound goal with just under seven minutes to play, but Letunov tossed in an empty-netter with 1:06 left to seal the UConn win.

Both teams return tonight at 7:35 to conclude the series.

FIRST PERIOD

UC - Justin Howell, 1 (Joona Kunnas, Jesse Schwartz) 15:16; UC - Maxim Letunov, 1 (Brian Morgan, Tate Thompson) PP, 17:13. Shots on goal: ND 14, UC 11; Penalties: ND 1-2, UC 1-2.

SECOND PERIOD

ND - Tory Dello, 1 (Connor Hurley, Dylan Malmquist) 12:50. Shots: ND 21, UC 5; Penalties: UC 2-4, ND 0.

THIRD PERIOD

UC - Karl El-Mir, 4 (Derek Pratt, Max Kalter) 7:23; ND - Jake Evans, 2 (Andrew Oglevie, Anders Bjork) 13:02; UC - Letunov, 2 (Thompson) EN, 18:54. Shots: ND 14, UC 9; Penalties: UC 3-6, ND 0.

UC 2 0 2 - 4

ND 0 1 1 - 2

Shots: ND 49, UConn 25; Saves: UConn 47 (Adam Huska), ND 21 (Cal Petersen); Power plays: ND 0-6, UConn 1-1; Penalties: UConn 6-12, ND 1-2; Attendance: 2,936.

Notre Dame's Ben Ostlie (8) spins around next to Connecticut's Wyatt Newpower (20) during their college hockey game Thursday at the Notre Dame Compton Family Ice Arena in South Bend. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN