Hockey East Preview: UConn Huskies

Last Season: 12–20–2 (7–15–2 HE, ninth place); missed HE playoffs

Head Coach: Mike Cavanaugh (seventh season)

Coaches’ Poll Projected Finish: Ninth

Losses

  • G Adam Huska
  • D Miles Gendron
  • F Karl El-Mir
  • F Max Kalter

Additions

  • G Ryan Keane
  • D Carter Berger
  • D Jacob Flynn
  • D Yan Kuznetsov
  • D Harrison Rees
  • F Matej Blümel
  • F Eric Linell
  • F Vladislav Firstov

By Jonathan Golbert

Save for a OT win against Hockey East Champions Northeastern and a March 8th upset of then-No. 2 Massachusetts, it was another disappointing season in Storrs for the UConn men’s team. They notched just seven Hockey East wins and missed the postseason for the first time since 2002–2003.

This summer, UConn lost all three of their seniors and junior goaltender Adam Huska. Huska decided to forgo his senior season, signing an entry-level contract with the Rangers in March. Forward Karl El-Mir will head to the AHL, signing an ATO with the Bruins’ affiliate in Providence, as will former captain Miles Gendron. Senior forward Max Kalter joined the ECHL’s Kansas City Mavericks, an affiliate of the Calgary Flames. The Huskies will sorely miss the offensive contributions of El-Mir and Kalter, who combined for 19 goals and 24 assists last season.

The Huskies’ crop of incoming recruits features three players chosen in June’s NHL Entry Draft. Vladislav Firstov was taken in the second round by the Minnesota Wild, and Matej Blümel and Carter Berger were taken in the fourth round by Edmonton and Florida, respectively. Firstov and Blümel, teammates on the USHL’s Waterloo Blackhawks, will take on big roles straight away for Head Coach Mike Cavanaugh’s squad, as they look to replace the leadership and production up front from El-Mir and Kalter.

After the graduation of last year’s captain Gendron, one of UConn’s first priorities this offseason was appointing new athlete leadership. They filled this void by making Seniors Benjamin Freeman and Wyatt Newpower co-captains. Islanders prospect Ruslan Ishakov will also look to take a leadership role this year; the 5’8” Russian looks to use his blistering speed, soft hands, and good hockey IQ to build on an impressive 21-point freshman campaign.

Fellow Sophomore Jachym Kondelik will also be an important piece for the Huskies. His 6’7” frame makes the Czech centerman a matchup nightmare for opposing teams, as highlighted by his 22 assists last season. Another player to watch is highly-rated freshman Vladislav Firstov. He has an exceptional shot, great passing vision, and works hard at both ends of the ice. He’ll contribute right away and look to be a mainstay in this lineup for several years.

The departure of netminder Adam Huska will give an opportunity for sophomore Tomas Vomacka to step into the starting role after appearing in 15 games last year. Vomacka’s strong skating, athleticism, and rebound control allowed him to post the fourth-best save percentage in Hockey East (.922). He is well-positioned to take over in net for the Huskies this year ahead of junior Bradley Stone and freshman Ryan Keane.

A key barometer for improvement for this team will be their discipline and special teams play: Huskies sat in the sin bin for over 350 minutes last season, but killed only 77 percent of their penalties, 10th in Hockey East.

Mike Cavanaugh’s recruiting has been excellent the past two years, and he’s seeing the dividends in this year’s roster. UConn’s program is still in the bottom half of Hockey East, but their underclassmen-heavy squad is reminiscent in structure (minus one Cale Makar and a whole lot of talent) to the one that shuttled UMass Amherst all the way to the national championship game last year.

Bottom Line: The Husky offense features a plethora of strong 6’3”+ players backing up the smaller puck-handlers. Every man on the ice — regardless of size — can pass, shoot, and score. The incoming freshmen will bolster the Huskies’ lines, and the star-studded sophomore class has a year of college hockey under its belt. UConn will improve from last season, but there will still be considerable growing pains for a program still searching for its first winning season in Hockey East.

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