As the season winds down for the UConn men’s hockey team, it’s easy to say it was full of disappointment.
The Huskies are just one season removed from their best finish ever in the Hockey East, finishing fifth in the conference with 23 points. Now, with one of the best freshmen classes in the country, UConn sits at 12 points with four games to play and are all but mathematically eliminated from the Hockey East playoffs.
So yes, from the surface it looks a tad disappointing. I’m here to tell you it’s not.
The Huskies have been surging lately, largely thanks to their underclassmen, and it’s a beautiful sign of things to come. The Huskies have won three of their last four games, upsetting No. 13 Northeastern 3-2, blanking Merrimack 5-0 and beating Boston University 3-2 in overtime.
All you need to do is take a look at the stats from the three wins to see that the future is bright in Storrs. In the win over Northeastern, freshmen Jachym Kondelik netted a goal and an assist, freshmen Brian Rigali netted a goal and fellow first-years Roman Kinal and Ruslan Iskhakov recorded assists.
In the thrashing of Merrimack, Iskhakov recorded a goal and two assists. Sophomore Zac Robbins scored while Rigali, Kinal and sophomore Wyatt Newpower recorded assists. Finally, in the win over Boston University, Newpower scored one of the three Huskies’ three goals, while Kondelik and Iskhakov got on the score sheet with assists.
So to recap, the underclassmen are starting to step up. In three games the freshmen and sophomores recorded 15 of the Huskies’ 33 recorded points in the three victories. You don’t need to be an expert in college hockey to know that’s pretty good.
And who can forget about freshman goaltender sensation Tomas Vomacka? The Czech Republic native saved 31 of 33 shots in the victory over No. 14 Northeastern, 29 of 29 in the shut out of Merrimack and 20 of 22 against Boston University. Vomacka has played in 12 games compared to junior netminder Adam Huska’s 20 games. The two are tied in wins, while the freshman owns a better save percentage (.914) and better goals against average (2.41).
Head coach Mike Cavanaugh said the recent success has come about because the team is playing more comfortable.
“The thought of making the playoffs or missing the playoffs, I thought that was paralyzing the team,” Cavanaugh said. “That’s all that we were thinking about instead of just playing hockey. We got together as a group and said, ‘If we make the playoffs, we make them, if we don’t, we don’t, but let’s play the way we want to play.’ And that’s why I said our identity, I think we’ve started to play to our identity. It was just the pressure of trying to make the playoffs, was hindering our game. And now you’re seeing us, now our play is up-tempo, it’s a team that’s attacking, more so than playing nervous.”
There shouldn’t be any more pressure of making the playoffs, that’s for certain. But the pressure will be there in the years to come, and for good reason, this team’s going to be good.