Men’s Hockey: UConn’s (backup) man between the pipes

The Huskies won 3-1 against Brown, with Vomacka between the pipes. Their next home game is this Friday against UMass Lowell. Photo by Eric Wang/The Daily Campus

Just minutes removed from a 25-save performance in a 3-1 win over Brown, exhaustion hangs on the face of Tomas Vomacka beside the XL Center ice surface. Even though there’s a smile on his face, the freshman goaltender from the Czech Republic is tired, sweaty and a little out of breath.

It’s not always like this though.

As UConn’s backup to junior goaltender Adam Huska, the lights aren’t always on him and he’s not usually the man mobbed by his teammates after a win. But he could be one day. Already drafted by the NHL’s Nashville Predators, Vomacka has the talent to be a great goaltender in the future even if he doesn’t like to think about it too much. To him, his job is to focus on his role with the team he’s on right now.

“I’m just trying to live day by day,” said Vomacka. “Trying to prove to coach (Mike Cavanaugh) that I can start every game and also compete with Adam for the spot.”

Three games into his college career, Vomacka has a 1.30 goals against average and a 2-1 record. However, that one loss was an especially heart-wrenching one. In his first taste of Hockey East action and in Vermont’s building, Vomacka surrendered two last-second goals, one at the end of regulation and the other in overtime.

It was the kind of loss that could demoralize a young player who was making just his second career start. But just like he doesn’t like to think about the future, Vomacka isn’t much of a fan of looking in the rearview mirror.

“You know it happened and I just try not to think about it anymore,” said Vomacka. “It’s really hard to win games in this league and I just saw it in real life.”

Vomacka’s calling card appears to be his laser-like focus every single day, whether it’s in practice or when he gets an in-game opportunity. He certainly didn’t show any signs that the loss to Vermont was still weighing on his mind against Brown.

Even after Brown scored early in the third period and the ice started to shift in the Bears’ favor, Vomacka remained steady in net. He made several key saves in the game’s final moments; none more impressive than a sprawling glove save with under a minute left.

When the Huskies scored an empty net goal to finally put Brown away, Vomacka took a moment to gesture to the crowd, a show of thanks for making his first collegiate start at home a memorable one.

“I was actually surprised. You know it’s a Tuesday night, it’s a weeknight,” Vomacka said. “It was an amazing feeling.”

Although Vomacka admits part of his role on the team is to push for Huska’s spot as the number one goalie, there has never been any animosity between the two netminders.

Huska gave Vomacka his seal of approval after the game, saying he always feels confident with the freshman in net. It’s a testament to how Vomacka competes in practice and perhaps a shared European connection between the two goalies.

“Czechs and Slovaks are always close to each other,” said Huska. “I felt it right away. Usually in every locker room where Czechs and Slovaks meet, there’s a sort of connection right away.”

Vomacka said he chose to come to UConn because he fell in love with the school right away. It’s a love that hasn’t waned. The “fish-out-of-water” feeling that some foreign players speak of in American locker room? Vomacka can’t relate.

“We’re all hockey players; we all have the same goal,” he said. “The coaching staff has been great.”

Resentment at being stuck on the bench? Nonexistent.

“I’m so glad I can be here with (Huska) and just learn,” he said. “I’m so glad we’re really good friends.”

Feet away from the empty stands that were full of cheering fans just minutes earlier, the backup UConn goaltender and NHL draft pick put it plainly:

“I can’t complain about anything.”


Bryan Lambert is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at bryan.lambert@uconn.edu.