Men's Hockey: Finding the right mix of youth and experience

Joseph Masonious takes the puck around the net during UConn's 5-2 loss against Providence College at the XL Center on Friday Feb. 19, 2016. Masonious, a freshman defender, has 20 points on the season. (Tyler Benton/The Daily Campus)

UConn’s transition from a middle-of-the-road Atlantic Hockey Conference program to a rapidly growing Hockey East program has put them in a unique situation.

In his three years as UConn men’s hockey coach, Mike Cavanaugh has built the foundation of a winning program and managed to recruit more highly touted players each year. An abnormally large portion of UConn’s production comes from freshmen players that are new to the college game, but the veteran’s have unselfishly played a major role in helping them along and giving them all the guidance they can offer. Defensive line mates Kyle Huson and Joseph Masonius serve as a perfect example.

Huson is a senior defenseman with 132 career games under his belt. His 17 career points don’t exactly jump off the stat sheet, but his 165 career blocks are more indicative of his impact on the team. Masonius, a freshman, was named Hockey East Rookie of the Week on Monday and leads all UConn defensemen in both goals and assists with six and 14, respectively. He credits Huson for helping show him the way early in his college career.

“Huson’s one of those guys on our team that’s a natural leader, just kind of the type of person he is — how he presents himself every day, the way he comes into the rink,” Masonius said. “It’s a pretty good opportunity for me to look and see what he does every day and just how to maintain a schedule.”

Masonius reiterated how much he has learned from his senior teammate both on and off the ice.

“He’s on top of all his stuff off the ice and he’s a great kid, but even on the ice he comes to the rink every day, he works hard, puts his time in; I’ve learned a lot from Hus in all aspects. It’s great having him around.”

It is not a coincidence that Huson has become a leader for younger players. He came into the season with the expectation of setting a good example for the underclassmen.

“Being the only senior on the D-corps, I feel like there was a sense of responsibility to make sure that I carry myself as a leader and use all the experience that I’ve gained over the past four years to help our D-corps,” Huson said. “I just tried to make sure that I carried myself the right way and just tried to play the best hockey that I can, and hopefully it resonated with the other guys.”

Kyle Huson patrols the goal line during UConn's 5-2 loss to Northeastern on Fe. 16, 2016 at the XL Center. Huson, a senior defenseman, has taken the younger players on the team under his wing. (Tyler Benton/The Daily Campus)

It doesn’t take long to pick out Masonius on the ice. The freshman just turned 19 years old in February, but he’s already one of the smoothest skaters on the roster and his ability to handle the puck is rare for a young defenseman. He is tied for ninth among Hockey East defensemen in scoring this season and is a major reason the Huskies have earned a home playoff series against Vermont this weekend.   

“He’s obviously very naturally offensively skilled. He has great vision on the ice, he can skate really well, move the puck well, and he’s got a great shot,” Huson said. “I think that he has good smarts for a freshman kid coming in and I think that his ceiling is very high.”

Masonius knows he isn’t a finished product. He leads UConn with 20 penalties so far this season and has committed some costly turnovers. He has cut down on his mistakes in recent games and looks more comfortable than he did earlier in the season. His four points last week against New Hampshire led all Hockey East defensemen.

However, he still comes to the rink every day looking to improve his game. His focus has been on keeping things simple, learning to play within the defensive system, and getting more comfortable offensively as a college player. Masonius explained his approach to improving throughout the year.

“Talking to coaches, kind of acting like a sponge a little bit, taking everything in. Just learning how to play on both sides of the puck and learning how to make the first pass,” he said.

Masonius has made his mark in the scoring column this season, but freshmen teammates Max Letunov and Tage Thompson have put even more pucks in the back of the net. Letunov and Thompson lead the Huskies with 39 and 31 points, respectively. Four additional freshmen made an impact on UConn’s push for a home playoff series and their veteran teammates have felt their presence.

“You see other guys like Max Kalter, Karl El-Mir, Marco Richter; those guys for the past four weeks have been very very good for us,” Huson said. “They’ve been giving us a lot of energy. Kalter’s centered one of our best lines; they’ve gotten better each week, and they just bring a lot of energy and a lot of passion to our team. Miles Gendron has done well on the back end as well, so I think the impact from the freshmen has been really good.”

The Huskies combination of talent and experience appears to be coming together at the right time for a team seeking it’s first Hockey East playoff wins. Vermont won both games against UConn in the regular season, but both were close contests and the Huskies are confident that they are a different team now than they were a month ago.  UConn kicks off the best-of-three series against Vermont on Friday at 7 p.m. at the XL Center. They will play again Saturday at 7 p.m. and at 5 p.m. on Sunday if necessary. 


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.