Hockey East Preview – University of Connecticut Huskies

By: Dan McLoone144414a

Head Coach: Mike Cavanaugh; 5th season

Last Season: 12-16-8 (8-10-4 in HE, 9th); Lost to Northeastern in HE first round

Losses: F Brian Morgan, G Rob Nichols, F Evan Richardson, F Tage Thompson,

Newcomers: D Adam Karashik, F Brian Rigali, F Zac Robbins, G Bradley Stone, F Evan Wisocky

The other Huskies of Hockey East have slowly improved in each year of Mike Cavanaugh’s regime, upping their conference record by two wins despite missing out on hosting a home playoff series last year. With the graduation of Evan Richardson and Rob Nichols, the last two players from UConn’s days in the Atlantic Hockey Association are gone and the transition to Hockey East is complete.

Richardson and Nichols are two of just four total departures for the Huskies, but they are all big ones. Nichols served as the squad’s starting goaltender and a strong locker room presence for two and a half years before incumbent Adam Huska burst onto the scene last year, but his 2.66 career GAA is second best all-time in program history. In Richardson (six goals, 16 assists) and Brian Morgan (seven goals, seven assists), the Huskies lose two experienced scorers. But the biggest blow is the loss of Tage Thompson, who chose to forfeit his final two years of eligibility to sign with the St. Louis Blues after a stellar sophomore campaign that saw him score a team-high 19 goals to go with 13 assists and a nod on the All-Hockey East Third Team.

Despite the loss, the Huskies retained the rest of their talented attacking core. Leading the way in his junior season will be Maxim Letunov, an Arizona Coyotes prospect who led the team with 20 assists to go with his seven goals. He will be joined by seniors Spencer Naas (15 goals, seven assists) and Kasperi Ojantakanen (six goals, 10 assists) and juniors Max Kalter (four goals, 16 assists) and Karl El-Mir (nine goals, five assists) to create two dangerous lines in Storrs. The incoming freshman trio of Brian Rigali, Zac Robbins and Evan Wisocky will look to make an impact right away, and expect sophomore Benjamin Freeman to vastly improve on his freshman showing of 12 points with more ice time this year.

UConn returns their entire crew on the blue line from last year, led by second-year team captain Derek Pratt. He is joined by some physical and towering bodies, as senior David Drake (6-6), juniors Miles Gendron (6-3) and Joseph Masonius (6-2), and sophomores Wyatt Newpower (6-4) and Philip Nyberg (6-4) make the Huskies one of the most imposing defensive teams in the conference. Masonius and junior Johnny Austin have both shown their ability to generate opportunities on the attack, logging 11 and eight assists respectively last year.

New York Rangers draft pick Adam Huska returns in net for the Huskies, who will look for another step forward from their youngster. A member of an impressive freshman goalie class in Hockey East last year, Huska took over from Rob Nichols as the starter and posted a .916 save percentage and a 2.87 GAA. At 6-4 and 205 pounds, Huska has the size of a prototypical goalie, and any improvement from last year’s effort will make UConn a formidable defensive team.

Bottom Line: Despite losing Tage Thompson, the offense is still capable of producing goals. The talent is there, but Cavanaugh’s squad will have to find out who will step up as the go-to scorer. The defense will be the strong suit here, though. The Huskies won’t be able to consistently pot four goals a night, so the team will go as far as the returning defense and goalie take them. Look for Huska to take a big step forward in his second year. The size of the defense will make it tough for any team to bully the Huskies physically, but fast teams might be able to net some quick goals. Expect UConn to improve on their eight conference wins from last year and host a first round playoff series.

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