HARTFORD — It’s not something Sanu Salminen practices, at least not part of any formal drill in practice.
“Those are the things every single hockey player, when you’re playing with your friends, when you’re young, falling in love with the game, you practice that kind of stuff,” Salminen said.
A kid’s hockey fantasy, whether in Connecticut, Canada or, in Salminen’s case, Helsinki, Finland. Pick up the puck, balance it on your stick as if it were a ball in the pouch of a lacrosse stick, and flip over the goalie’s shoulder.
“Coaches were saying, ‘Keep it simple, the puck will go in,'” Salminen said. “I never expected it would come like that.”
Salminen, who had been in a scoring slump, pulled it off on impulse in the opening minutes of CT Ice, giving UConn a tone-setting lead. The Huskies held on to win their semifinal game over Sacred Heart, 6-2, before 4,633 at the XL Center Friday. The Huskies will play either Yale or defending national champ Quinnipiac for the trophy Saturday night.
Quinnipiac, defending CT Ice and national champs, played Yale in the second game Friday.
A “Michigan goal” they call it, after the Wolverines player Mike Legg did it in the 1990. After Salminen scored, the UConn bench erupted.
“It didn’t really relax me,” UConn coach Mike Cavanaugh said, “because I saw the whole bench going bananas and I thought, ‘We have a long way to go.’ Sure enough, they came right back down and made it 1-1. But it was a beautiful goal.”
UConn took firm control of the game midway through the first period on two goals from captain Hudson Schandor, the No. 1 star, and responded to a challenge with two more in the second, from Jake Richard and Nick Capone.
Sacred Heart outshot the Huskies 38-21, but the Huskies consistently created dangerous opportunities and cashed in, forcing Sacred Heart coach C.J. Marottolo to change goalies.
UConn was effective in quelling Sacred Heart’s well-known weapon, killing off four power players, including a five-minute penalty on Capone for an elbow to head of an opponent.
“We’ll have to play more disciplined (Saturday),” Cavanaugh said.
All the buzz, though, was about Salminen’s goal.
“Great play, unbelievable play,” Marottolo said. “He beat our guy off the wall down low and created that space. Credit to him. I’m sure young kids will be watching that they’ll be trying that tomorrow in practice. That’s a good thing.”
Cavanaugh’s response: “I’m sure that will make their coaches very happy.”
The Huskies, who have had their ups and downs through the first half of the season, evened their record at 11-11-2, and a win over Quinnipiac, again very much in the thick of the national picture, could be a season-changer for UConn.
Goalie Arsenii Sergeev was solid for UConn, despite facing more shots than his counterparts, making 36 saves..
UConn scored almost immediately with the unassisted tone-setter by Salminen, past Sacred Heart’s Chase Clark 2:35 in.
The Pioneers (11-13-2) answered 61 seconds later on Kevin Lombard’s goal, and although they outshot UConn throughout the game, the Huskies consistently generated the more dangerous opportunities and Schandor cashed two of them in, one converting a pass into the slot from Andrew Lucas, the other off assists from Chase Bradley and Jake Richard. The Huskies killed a penalty before taking the 3-1 lead into the dressing room.
Capone scored on a power play and Richard scored in the second period as the Huskies extended the lead to 5-2, forcing Sacred Heart to change goalies, from Clark to Justin Robbins. Kevin Lombard and Liam Izyk scored for the Pioneers.
Ryan Tattle put the bough on it for UConn with an empty netter with 2:27 left.