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UConn women's hockey advances to Hockey East semifinals after beating Holy Cross, 4-2

The Huskies took an early lead and then held off a scrappy Holy Cross squad.

Photo: Ian Bethune

UConn women’s hockey is moving on to the Hockey East semifinals after opening the postseason with a 4-2 win over the 10-seed Holy Cross Crusaders at Toscano Family Ice Forum on Saturday.

Despite facing a last-place team that managed just five league wins all season, UConn didn’t have it easy — Holy Cross scratched and clawed through the end.

The Huskies took a 1-0 lead after a near-side power-play snipe from Coryn Tormala, but that was one of just five shots on goal in the first period.

“Holy Cross plays a good structure and it was hard to get through there,” MacKenzie said.

UConn started to break the game open in the second period. Midway through, the Huskies had nearly tripled their shot total and soon doubled their lead.

Ashley Allard carried the puck towards the net and had her first shot turned away but tucked the rebound in to make it 2-0.

“Never know what can happen from a shot,” Allard said.

With the first goal coming on the power play and the second at even strength, UConn hit the trifecta with a shorthanded goal to push the lead to 3-0. Jada Habisch flew up ice and scored five-hole to give the Huskies a commanding lead with less than three minutes left in the period.

“I told the team we needed some shorthanded goals once in a while,” MacKenzie said. “I can't think of a better time than playoff time to get one.”

Holy Cross didn’t give up, though. The visitors seized the momentum by getting their first goal with 5.0 seconds left before intermission to cut the Huskies’ lead to just 3-1.

“They don't give up at all,” Allard said. “They're really grindy.”

UConn restored its buffer 2:08 into the third, as Brianna Ware re-directed a shot from Ava Rinker into the top netting to give the Huskies some breathing room at 4-1.

But it wasn't over yet. Holy Cross pulled another back with 9:44 left and then won a challenge to overturn a fifth goal from UConn to remain in the contest. The Crusaders pulled the goalie with 3:20 left and spent most of the remaining time in their offensive zone.

The Huskies knew they just needed to stay disciplined to see the game out.

“We practice that a lot,” Allard said. “We were ready for it.”

Ultimately, the clock ran out on the visitors and UConn secured its spot in the semifinals.

“I don't think we gave up too many shots,” MacKenzie said. “We prepare for that and we executed pretty well.”

The Huskies will play at home on Wednesday, though they won’t know their opponent until the other quarterfinal games finish up later tonight.

“We said in the room today we don't know who we're playing, but it doesn't change anything. It doesn't change the way we're gonna play and the way we're gonna approach the game,” Allard said.

While UConn didn’t play its A-game on Saturday — which Holy Cross deserves plenty of credit for — that’s not important this time of year. The Huskies are still alive. That’s all they care about.

“We're just happy to advance and keep moving on,” MacKenzie said.