We’re 10 games into the season and it’s time to check on the youngsters of the UConn men’s hockey team. The freshman class may have been the most talked about group before the Huskies even took the ice and they have been performing at a high level early in the season. A dozen new faces from last year make this UConn team the sixth youngest in all of Division I hockey, but 11 of the 12 have found their way onto the stat sheet one way or another.
“They’re supremely talented. I think there’s a lot of talent in that class,” head coach Mike Cavanaugh. “They skate well. They’ve all played hockey at a high level before coming here. It’s just an adjustment… When you come to a team, it’s new. It’s not different than being a 19-year-old rookie in the NHL or a 24-year-old rookie. You’re still a rookie and you still have to learn how to play in the league.”
Jonny Evans’ two-goal performance in the win over Brown Tuesday night may be a sign of things to come. The freshman earned the No.1 star of the game after scoring his second and third collegiate goals. Cavanaugh credits Evans’ improved ability to win puck battles for his offensive breakthrough, and his performance Tuesday night was the evidence.
“My linemates made it easy for me,” Evans said postgame.
Jáchym Kondelik has been nothing short of stellar since coming over from the Czech Republic. The Nashville Predators draft pick has manned the first line for the early portion of the season, flanked by Karl El-Mir and Alexander Payusov. The trio has combined for 25 points thus far with Kondelik assisting 10 times, leading not only the team, but the entire Hockey East.
El-Mir noticed Kondelik’s knack for passing after a win against Maine. “He just finds us,” El-Mir said. Although he played with Ruslan Iskhakov instead of El-Mir Tuesday night, expect Kondelik’s assist total to keep growing.
Tomas Vomacka has established himself as a strong second option behind starting goaltender Adam Huska. Also a Nashville Predator draft pick, a year earlier than Kondelik’s selection, Vomacka is now 2-1-0 after three starts. Vomacka stands 6 foot 3, 185 pounds in net and does not let much by him. Another Czech Republic native, Vomacka has only let up four goals in three starts and carried a .944 save percentage before Tuesday night’s 25-save performance.
“He’s been very good,” Cavanaugh said. “I think he works hard everyday. He’s big. He’s athletic. He’s played very well so far this season.”
Cavanaugh has had to rely on the freshmen night-in and night-out thus far with eight or nine of them in the starting lineup every game and it will continue on like that as the season plays out.
“I think college hockey is very similar to college basketball where freshmen have to come in and perform,” Cavanaugh said. “When you’re recruited in these sports as a highly sought-after recruit, you’re expected to come in and contribute and they’ve done a nice job of that.”
The freshmen Huskies and the rest of the UConn hockey team will face off against Hockey East rival UMass-Lowell Friday night at the XL Center in Hartford.
Kevin Arnold is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.