The weekend of November 17 and 18 brought physicality and fury onto the Silverstein Arena ice with the arrival of the Arkansas Razorbacks, holding third place in the league. The Kansas Jayhawks fell to the visitors on an intense Friday night but made a signature comeback the following afternoon.
After a noticeably physical beginning on Friday, both teams showed their skating abilities as a tough back-and-forth affair ensued over the blue lines. Fast play and slow luck were evident with the absence of goals well into the first period, until Arkansas scored one to set the tone for the night. Tensions rose with effort in the second period of the matchup, with #22 Miles Manson finally tying the game with a goal, assisted by #28 Johan Steen. However, the Razorbacks scored in the last three minutes on a power play as KU drew a couple of penalties. The third period saw even harder hustle from the Jayhawks with amplified speed and vigor, including several scuffles and minutes in the box. Arkansas managed to net one in the final three minutes of the game only to score two more as time ran out, ending the night with a 5-1 win over Kansas.
However, Saturday brought a fresh mindset and start for the home team as the Jayhawks showed up to play, exuding more energy and drive with a hope for redemption. Despite an early goal from Arkansas in the first seven minutes of the game, there were constant snowstorms around both nets, with goalie #1 Ben Smith handling the pressure well. Explosive plays from the likes of #19 Reece Doty helped #12 Preston McConnell shoot and even out the score, followed by another goal from #22 Manson in the last thirty seconds of the first period, putting KU in the lead. The second period was filled with copious whistle blows and trips to the penalty box for both contenders, and both zones saw desperation and shots. Smith remained solid in the net as #3 Brandon Burgess scored on the visitors, supplemented with a goal from #22 Manson, boosting the energy and morale on the home bench. The Razorbacks scored another to end the second period at 4-2, with a significant increase in the quality of KU’s skating and puck work. More pressure was applied to the Arkansas zone with more attempts, attitude, and frustration from the teams in the third period. Breakaways were shut down, penalty counts rose, and although the Razorbacks managed to slide one past KU’s pipes in the last few minutes of the game, Kansas emerged victorious with a final score of 4-3 to split the weekend series with the opposition.
Postgame with Head Coach Andy McConnell:
Q: How do you think we played this weekend?
“Overall we played well. This weekend was a real test for us. We have played a lot of hockey and the team is fatigued (and injured, to be honest). Friday, we came out slow and just couldn’t get anything going. It just wasn’t our night. We fought back and tried to dig out of the hole we were in, but at the end of the game, the wheels just fell off. A takeaway from that game was our discipline. We struggled with calls from the official again, but I was proud that the boys tried to push through. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough and they ended up putting us away late in the 3rd. From Friday to Saturday it was a completely different team… We were smart, fast, and outworked Arkansas, which just shows the tenacity of this team to not get down and pull the confidence from within and show up the next day to win.”
Q: What contributed to our comeback win on Saturday?
“Dawson Engle, who missed Friday, is a huge difference-maker to our team. Having him back completely changes our dynamic. He leads his line and is such a hard player to play against and gives a one-two punch from first to second line that’s unrivaled in our league.
Teams aren’t going to roll over for us and while they scored first, our mental strength to go out and answer was huge. I’d say our biggest advantage is that we have been down in games and still never give up. We fight and we play harder and different players step up to the call. Everyone pulls together and we end up winning. Some teams will start to scramble when they get down which can make things worse. We almost become more calm and focused and in turn, we capitalize on opportunities.”
Q: What does the team need to work on against the Razorbacks specifically (for future games)?
“Arkansas is always an emotional and hard played game. Almost to the point where we take ourselves out of it. We have to become even more disciplined and we have to learn to harness our emotions and turn them into strength. We also have to learn to capitalize on every opportunity. Arkansas doesn’t give us very many, and even better teams will give us less. I think of at least 3 open nets we missed on Friday which could have completely changed the outcome of the game.
But that comes with the maturity of the team and us growing. The boys were all aware that they didn’t show up to start and in turn, it makes it tough to finish. So we’ll take it as a lesson and move forward.”