Hockey East Preview: UConn Huskies

uconnHead Coach: Mike Cavanaugh; 6th season

Last Season: 15-19-2 (11-12-1 in HE, 5th); Lost in Hockey East Quarterfinals to Boston University

Losses: F Max Letunov, F Spencer Naas, F Corey Ronan, F Jesse Schwartz, F Jeff Wight, F Kasperi Ojantakanen, D Derek Pratt, D, David Drake, D Johnny Austin, D Joe Masonius

Additions: F Ruslan Iskhakov, F Jáchym Kondelík, F Kale Howarth, F Jordan Timmons, F Cart Furnbull, D Corson Green, D Roman Kinal, D Ryan Wheeler, G Tomas Vomacka

Projected Finish: 8th

by Christian Skroce

After several years of slow improvement under head coach Mike Cavanaugh, the University of Connecticut Huskies seemed to finally find their place in Hockey East last season. In the program’s fourth season in the conference, UConn made its biggest leap, winning seven games in a row to finish the season fifth in the conference standings. As a result, the Huskies earned a bye in the first round of the Hockey East tournament — making it to the Hockey East Quarterfinals for the first time in the school’s history — before ultimately falling to Boston University.

While UConn might have finally found its key to success in Hockey East last season, head coach Mike Cavanaugh will still face several obstacles, primarily a large turnover between last year’s squad to this year’s team. When the Huskies suit up for the first time to try to improve upon last season’s run, they’ll do so with several new faces. UConn graduated nine seniors this offseason, all of whom contributed to the program’s best season in Hockey East. The team also lost defenseman Joe Masonius (2 goals and 14 assists) and forward Max Letunov (12 goals and 16 assists), who led the team in points and assists last season. Both players decided to forgo their senior seasons and head to the NHL.

Despite losing several key players this offseason, the Huskies should have few reasons to panic, as Cavanaugh will bring in a 12-player recruiting class this season that ranks second in the nation. The talented class is headlined by Russian-born forward Ruslan Iskhakov, a 2018 second round NHL draft pick. The 18-year-old will figure to be a focal point of UConn’s attack this season, as his elite speed should cause problems for Hockey East defenses. In addition, Iskhakov comes to a Huskies team that already has a strong Russian connection, which should make the transition much easier. Joining Iskhakov in this freshman class are seven other forwards, including fellow draft picks Jáchym Kondelík and Kale Howarth. Both players will look to use their size (Kondelík at 6-6 and Howarth at 6-5) to add a great deal of physicality to the speed Iskhakov will bring.

The biggest weakness in this UCONN team will most likely be on the defensive end, which finished middle of the pack in Hockey East last season. While the three blue-liners from this freshman class will add nice depth to the unit, the team lacks a true superstar defensive player, which could ultimately be its downfall against the elite offensive units of Hockey East. The saving grace for this unit however comes between the pipes, as UConn’s goaltending will certainly take a step forward this season. The team returns junior goalie Adam Huska, who finished fifth in Hockey East last season with a save percentage of 0.916. The Huskies also add freshman Tomas Vomacka, a fifth round 2018 NHL draft pick. Despite being incredibly raw, Vomacka adds a lot of pure talent to the goaltending unit and serves to be a solid backup for Huska this season as he learns more about the college game.

Bottom Line:

The Huskies improved their attack this offseason, but the payoff might not come until the second half of this upcoming season. Losing 11 contributing players means there will be a lot of growing pains for this new group, as the number two ranked class in the country will most likely spend the first few months of the season gettin acclimated to the speed and physicality of Hockey East. Although it might be another middle tier finish for the Huskies this season, expect this program to compete for a top four finish in the near future, and eventually, a Hockey East title.

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