Four years. 1460 days. 118 games played. All of this is now in the past for Karl El-Mir as he says goodbye to the program he has put everything into.
At the ripe age of 15, El-Mir left his home in Montreal, Quebec to come to Connecticut, but not to play for the Huskies right away. He attended and played hockey at South Kent School. Though it was a difficult transition for someone so young, he earned league MVP and Offensive Player of the league for his 48 points (17g/31a) in 27 games, breaking records with his assist and point totals.
Next, it was off to UConn. Now acclimated to life in New England, El-Mir found an overwhelming sense of community in Storrs, even with the student population in the tens of thousands.
“I think just how even though it’s 30,000 people here at school, it just seems like a tight community and it reminded me a lot of prep school where I went, South Kent,” El-Mir said. “We were 179 kids, small campus, everything was close. And like yes, here it’s on a bigger scale, but campus is tight and you can see just the UConn Nation, the fans, everybody’s close, everybody’s involved and that’s probably what sold me here.”
The record breaking, high-honors earning, prep school player had a bit of a wake-up call his first season in a UConn uniform. He appeared in 21 games and totaled just five points on three goals and a pair of assists. With thoughts of “maybe I don’t belong here,” creeping in his mind, El-Mir leaned on his teammates, and the upperclassmen in particular.
“By the end of the day, the group of guys we had, there was no way of quitting. They always had my back, they’ve been through it. The upperclassmen helped guide me through the process and here I am now,” El-Mir said.
And here he is now. After steadily improving his sophomore and junior seasons, totaling 14 and 16 points respectively, El-Mir exploded for a career year as a senior, chalking a lot of his success to his consistency and “clicking” with his linemates. In 34 games, he found the back of the net 13 times and assisted on 14 scores for a team-best 27 points, all-career highs as a Husky.
Speaking of his linemates, El-Mir played with some talented skaters this season. Starting alongside junior Alexander “Sasha” Payusov and freshman Jachym Kondelik for 14 games, El-Mir credited the group’s communication as a key to their success. Payusov led the team in goals scored this season, while Kondelik was one of the highest ranked freshman in the conference, and the nation, for his 22 assists in his first collegiate campaign.
“I think we’re three different players in all aspects of the game, but I think we just complimented each other. We communicated really good together. I think I'm more of a rough guy. I play hard and I think it’s rubbed off on (Kondelik) who was maybe more of a skilled guy, passer, but like you can see in the corner he’s just dominate. You can see Sasha how dominate he is when he plays physical. I think maybe I helped in that aspect of their games.”
That has been a theme of El-Mir’s senior campaign: Helping the young guys. With a group of 12 newcomers to UConn hockey, a lot of things could – and did – go wrong. Eliminated from playoff contention with games still to play on the schedule, the team could’ve folded and quit on the year. Led by El-Mir and fellow seniors Max Kalter and Miles Gendron, they did not, and instead finished 5-3 in last eight games on the year.
“Miles, Karl and Max, they represent everything we stand for. We want players that are gonna graduate. We want to make them better men. And we want to compete for trophies,” head coach Mike Cavanaugh said following the season finale.
“But what they did this year – (that) I was more impressed with – was how they brought this group along… And what they did to keep this group competitive the last month of the season, for us to finish 5-3, I can’t say enough about their leadership to this group,” Cavanaugh said.
Putting himself in their shoes, thinking back to his time as a freshman, El-Mir helped teach the young guys what UConn hockey is all about. What it means to wear the blue and white. It was not always easy, and their record shows it, but the young guys are grateful for the seniors’ effort, and vice versa.
“We’re trying to build something bigger than us, even though we know we’re not in playoffs. I think we’ve proven we haven’t quit,” Cavanaugh said. “I think we’re building for next year. And I think us, as seniors, we see it like we’re helping those guys build something great for the following year. So like I said, I think the freshman appreciate it and we appreciate them not quitting on us and I think we’re going in the right direction as a program.”
The leadership from the group of seniors proved vital in the team’s development, a group attribute that stemmed from the tight bond amongst the team’s eldest players.
“It’s been great. A lot of laughs,” El-Mir said about his time with Gendron and Kalter. “I think we’re real close. We’re actually roommates too, all three of us, so we see each other every day. I think we got a very close bond and it’s gonna suck at the end of the year knowing that there’s a very little chance of playing with them again.”
Friday night proved to be bittersweet for the three brothers, forever bound together by four years full of memories. The team upset the No. 2 ranked UMass Minutemen, the highest ranked upset in program history on senior night. It was just one of a pile of moments El-Mir won’t forget, like Max Letunov’s overtime, game-winning goal against BU a season ago.
No matter the memories, the good and the bad, there will be one thing El-Mir will miss most in his life after UConn.
“I've been an only child and always through hockey I always find 26 brothers, but that’s a special group. I’m gonna remember past players, future players. Like that’s family. UConn will always be in my heart,” El-Mir said after senior night.
The senior forward made it clear he wasn’t sure what would come after UConn. With aspirations to continue his playing career, he wanted to make sure he was focused on playing his best on his senior night.
As announced by UConn hockey on March 14 via Twitter, El-Mir signed a contract with the Providence Bruins, the AHL affiliate of the Boston Bruins.
Kevin Arnold is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.