By Matt Cunha
BOSTON — Benjamin Freeman’s power-play rebound goal three minutes into overtime gave UConn (9–10–4, 6–7–2) a 3–2 win over Northeastern (13–7–2, 7–6–1 HEA) Saturday night at Matthews Arena. The outcome was a crucial one, coming amid a tight Hockey East playoff race in which the top seven teams — including Northeastern and UConn — are separated by just five points.
It was Northeastern’s second straight overtime loss. They will wait a few weeks for a chance to bounce back, with their next game coming January 31 at home against Providence. Christian Skroce and Matt Neiser will call that one, with coverage beginning at 6:45 PM EST.
Freeman’s goal came as a result of a Jeremie Bucheler holding penalty with 2:22 to go in OT. UConn’s Vladislav Firstov, who had already scored twice, broke in on net after a Ryan Shea turnover in the neutral zone. Bucheler attempted to halt a Firstov breakaway before being whistled for the penalty.
Shortly afterward, the officials ruled that the puck flew into the Northeastern bench, giving UConn an attacking-zone face-off. UConn won it, then Freeman tallied the game-winner after Northeastern goalie Craig Pantano came up big on a Jake Flynn shot.
“They went on the power play and, to be frank with you, I thought Jeremie Bucheler did a great job defending their forward going to the net,” said head coach Jim Madigan. “That is how we teach it. He went to the box and they scored on the powerplay. We cleared the puck and the referee thought it went in our bench which never hit our bench. In-zone faceoff and they scored. We didn’t get the breaks.”
To start the game, it took UConn all of 89 seconds to get on the board after a Firstov breakaway split the NU defense. It worsened after a Jayden Struble penalty gave UConn a power play, which Northeastern killed off. Shortly after, Northeastern’s own penalty generated a flurry of chances that failed to get past UConn goalie Tomas Vomacka, who saved 35 shots on the evening. The first period ended with a 1–0 UConn lead.
At the end of the first period, five-minute major and 10-minute game misconduct penalties were assessed to Northeastern’s Riley Hughes (grasping the facemask) and UConn’s Jáchym Kondelík (boarding).
In the second period, Northeastern killed off a penalty before crawling back into the game. Grant Jozefek was hit hard around 5:30 into the period and stayed on the ice for a few seconds. A few minutes later, Aidan McDonough found Jozefek for a game-tying one-timer. Around seven minutes after that, Jozefek drove home a feed from Mike Kesselring for his sixth goal of the season and a 2–1 Northeastern lead.
UConn answered with just over three minutes left in the second period as Firstov, on a pass from Wyatt Newhouse, ripped his second of the night in front of Pantano with little NU defensive pressure.
In third period, both Pantano (41 saves) and Vomacka stood on their heads with plenty of chances both ways.
Early in overtime, the team went back and forth until Bucheler’s holding penalty.
“I feel bad for Jeremie Bucheler because he defended the play the right way and he got called for a penalty,” said Madigan. “We will have to re-group. We have two weeks off now to get ready for Providence and this is a tough loss, but we will re-group. This is a resilient group in there and we just keep battling and move forward.”