Men's Hockey: Freshmen continue to shine amidst injuries and inconsistency

Freshman forward Max Letunov attacks the net during UConn's 7-4 loss to Sacred Heart at the XL Center on Tuesday Jan. 26, 2016. Letunov scored twice to bring his season total to 13. He leads the team in goals. (Jason Jiang/The Daily Campus)

UConn hockey fans who were feeling good about the Huskies' 3-3 tie against No. 4 ranked Boston College on Saturday were quickly taken down a notch on Tuesday night. In-state rival Sacred Heart (10-13-3) netted two goals in the first 29 seconds of the game en route to a 7-4 victory. While it was another disappointing loss against an underdog, the Huskies continued to receive an offensive jolt from two of their youngest players.

Freshmen Max Letunov and Tage Thompson have earned themselves a reputation as two players who need to be highlighted in the opponent’s game plan.

“We knew going in that we had to really nullify those two guys,” Sacred Heart head coach C.J. Marottolo said. “That top line is really really good and they play hard. They’re good systematically, but that one line stands out, those two guys.”

UConn has a roster decimated with injuries, but Letunov and Thompson did their best to keep the offense afloat Tuesday night. Letunov got started early, scoring both of his goals in the first period. His first came four minutes into the game, as he beat the goaltender stick side on a wrist shot off a feed from sophomore Jesse Schwartz. His second goal came less than five minutes later, this time with help from Thompson, who delivered a perfect pass in front of the net from the right corner.

Thompson could not find his way into the scoring column, but added another assist in the second period when sophomore Spencer Naas tipped his slap shot from near the blue line to tie the game at 3-3. The game slipped away from UConn quickly after.

Letunov echoed the sentiment of UConn head coach Mike Cavanaugh, who blamed the loss more on a lack of effort than injury issues.

“It’s pretty easy, if you come out hard and play hard you always have a chance to win…we didn’t come out ready today and you see the result,” Letunov said.

Cavanaugh was impressed with Letunov’s effort, however. He leads the Huskies with 13 goals on the season, followed by Thompson with 10.

“He was one of a few guys who I thought played hard for 60 minutes, but one of a few doesn’t get it done,” Cavanaugh said. “We need an entire team collectively.”

The third year coach took it upon himself to get his team to play more consistently moving forward.

“It’s on me to get the guys to play consistent hockey. We really played well enough Saturday to win a hockey game against the number four team in the country and tonight we didn’t play well enough to beat anybody,” he said.

It was UConn’s second loss to an Atlantic Hockey Conference opponent this season. They also lost to Army back in November. The Huskies have now lost three straight to Sacred Heart under Cavanaugh. UConn faces Brown (4-12-3), another struggling opponent, Tuesday Feb. 2 at the XL Center before returning to Hockey East play against Merrimack on the road Feb. 6. Cavanaugh would clearly like to mimic Saturday’s performance against BC moving forward and put Tuesday night’s game behind them.

Junior goaltender Rob Nichols remains out with a high ankle sprain and Cavanaugh acknowledged the fact that his timetable for return is uncertain. Rather than worry about the loss of his regular starter, Cavanaugh instead continued to preach consistency throughout the entire team.  

“I want to be building a team that’s consistently going to be competing for championships, and in order to do that you have to be consistent with your play,” Cavanaugh said.


Aaron Esposito is a staff writer for The Daily Campus, covering men’s hockey. He can be reached via email at aaron.esposito@uconn.edu.