The UConn men’s hockey team has been through a tumultuous couple of years, starting with the replacement of former head coach Bruce Marshall with Mike Cavanaugh and later transitioning into what is arguably the best conference in college hockey in Hockey East.
What has stood out through the past four years or so, however, is the class and poise with which the seniors on the team have handled each obstacle or challenge in their way.
It all started with the freshman class that came to UConn to begin playing the 2012-13 season. The recruiting class consisted of defenseman Kyle Huson and forwards Patrick Kirtland, Shawn Pauly and Joey Ferris. These four freshmen were each recruited by Marshall as lower-level Division I hockey players to a big Division I school that had hopes of moving up in the college hockey world.
Marshall ultimately resigned due to health concerns in the middle of that season, making way for Cavanaugh, a former Boston College assistant coach, who had huge ambitions for the program. He completely changed the culture around the team and was able to recruit more and more talent to add to the gritty class that came before him. Despite the coaching change, the work ethic of players like Kirtland, Huson and the rest created a good attitude and made UConn look like a better program for young hockey prospects.
After just one year under Cavanaugh, the team made another huge move, leaving Atlantic Hockey for Hockey East. This was a huge step for a team still pretty much devoid of pro-level talent, but this same class, juniors at the time, made sure it would lead UConn into a new era in Hockey East.
Kirtland was named an alternate captain that junior season, and Pauly recorded at least 20 points for the third season in a row. Ferris added eight points of his own to a team that struggled to score goals at times. Meanwhile, Kyle Huson added a great deal of depth, size and experience to a young group of defensemen. Each member of that class had an impact, but most importantly, helped bring excitement back to the XL Center, which had missed its share of hockey for quite some time (not counting the Wolfpack).
The biggest shining moment in the program’s transition to Hockey East came in the conference home opener against Boston College during the 2014-15 season. Cavanaugh faced off against his mentor Jerry York, and Evan Richardson, a sophomoretransfer from BC, took onhis old teammates. Richardson would score the game’s only goal, allowing the Huskies to pull off the miracle upset and make a statement in their first-ever conference home game.
It all began with the tone set by this graduating senior class. They showed grit, played with intensity and put their bodies on the line for the program.
Though they have been through their ups and downs over the last four years, they have remained poised and focused on putting UConn hockey on the map, leading the Huskies to a number of great upset wins over teams like BC, Boston University, UMass-Lowell and Quinnipiac, while tying other teams like the 2015 national champion Providence.
On top of that, their work for UConn has attracted huge recruits such as Tage Thompson, Max Letunov and many more to come to Storrs. And for that, we can’t thank the Ice Bus class of 2016 enough.
Chris Hanna is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.