Before a 3-2 overtime upset win over the No. 13 Northeastern Huskies and before Tomas Vomacka earned his first-career shutout win Saturday over Merrimack, UConn had not won its previous six games and had not won on its home ice since Nov. 13. Now, with some underclassmen starting to play to their potentials, the Huskies ride back-to-back wins into a home-and-home series with Boston University.
Ruslan Iskhakov’s recent play has caught the attention of anyone following UConn hockey. The youngest player in UConn’s fourth-ranked recruiting class, Iskhakov (pronounced is-HOCK-hav) has been the best player on the ice of late. In the Huskies last two contests, Iskhakov totaled four points, including a goal and pair of assists against Merrimack. The transition from Moscow has not always been smooth, but head coach Mike Cavanaugh believes the freshman’s struggle is starting to pay off.
“He’s 18 years old and he’s coming from Russia. It’s not an easy adjustment,” Cavanaugh said. “He’s not used to the style of play that’s played over here in North America, I think that was an adjustment. Academically it’s a whole new curriculum for him, that’s an adjustment. Now I think you’re starting to see the player that we saw when we recruited him. I think he has potential to be a real special player.”
One of the weekend’s many highlights came from a give-and-go between Iskhakov and linemate Jonny Evans for the Huskies’ fifth goal and Evans’s second of the game. Evans, another member of the Huskies premier recruiting class, said the two started building chemistry early on in practice and now get to translate it to real-game play.
“In the beginning of the year we had a mock power play and we were on there together helping our PK out and we just built chemistry,” Evans said. “Now we’re playing on the same line together and it’s really fun.”
Saturday marked Evans’ second multi-goal game this season, with the first coming in a 3-1 victor over Brown back in November. Evans then missed some time with a concussion before recently coming back. Evans scored four points (2 goals, 2 assists) and earned the game’s No. 1 star in Saturday’s win.
“He’s [Evans] a great player. He had three goals in the first fifteen games as a freshman,” Cavanaugh said. “He’s a very talented player. He and Ruslan [Iskhakov] have found some magic together. And Max really is the engine on that line and those two have been very dynamic offensively. They also did a great job on the power play.”
Vomacka has played throughout the season, but more consistently and improved of late. After relieving Adam Huska for the third period of a 5-3 loss to BC, Vomacka earned back-to-back starts and consecutive wins while only allowing two goals.
“I didn’t see any pucks go on. That’s what I saw,” Cavanaugh said following Vomacka’s first collegiate shut out. “He [Vomacka] played really well. He managed the game well. I don't know how many grade A chances [he had]. I thought we did a nice job protecting the front of the net tonight and limiting any type of rebound chances. He handled all the initial shots really well.”
Though Vomacka has played less than half the minutes of junior and incumbent starter, Adam Huska, the freshman dropped his goals-allowed average to 2.50 on 22 total goals allowed and a overall record of 4-5. The success is enjoyable in the moment, but the freshman goaltender knows the hard work required to continue playing at a high level.
“It’s big, you know,” Vomacka said. “It’s an awesome accomplishment, but you just gotta keep working hard. It’s not the end of the season, we can’t just celebrate. For sure it feels good, we’ll enjoy it tonight, but a new week starts tomorrow and we gotta get ready for BU.”
In a freshman class of 12, half the entire roster, these are not the only three recruits contributing. Jachym Kondelik has been one of the best freshman in the conference and in the entire country with his 24 points on 20 assists. His unique passing ability landed him a spot on the Czech Republic’s Junior World Nationals team, representing his home country. Fellow freshman Zac Robbins scored his first goal of the season on Saturday while guys like Roman Kinal and Corson Green provided valuable shifts on the defensive end.
But for right now, Iskhakov, Evans and Vomacka are turning the wheels of the Ice Bus and the Huskies will need them at the top of their games for next weekend’s home-and-home series with BU.
Kevin Arnold is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.