The UConn men’s hockey team will begin their much-anticipated season on the road against the University of Maine, with a two-game series on Friday and Saturday.
This will be the Huskies’ fourth season in Hockey East, and fifth year under head coach Mike Cavanaugh. Last season, UConn finished in ninth place in the conference with an 8-10-4 conference record (12-16-8 overall), a season in which many thought the Huskies underperformed.
For the second consecutive year, UConn was ranked seventh out of 11 teams in the Hockey East preseason coaches’ poll, with Boston University as the preseason favorite.
UMaine, a conference opponent, is tied for last in the poll, a year after they finished in tenth place with a 5-15-2 record against Hockey East opponents.
The Huskies split their appearances against the Black Bears last season, one of which was played at Frozen Fenway. The first game saw five different Huskies score en route to a 6-3 win in Bridgeport, including a pair from the newest member of the St. Louis Blues, Tage Thompson. The second, played at the Red Sox’s stadium, did not go as smoothly, as the Huskies were shut out, 4-0, by Maine’s Rob McGovern, who the Huskies will face once again this weekend.
The Black Bears graduated their top-two point scorers, including Byron Blaine, who had a team-high 18 goals last season. They do, however, return 74 percent of their goal scoring overall, led by Chase Pearson’s 14 goals in his freshman year. That said, UMaine will rely on a lot of young talent, with the third-largest freshman class in the conference.
The Huskies, on the other hand, will hope their experience and veteran leadership can give them an edge over younger teams. UConn will return a total of nine seniors, the second-largest senior class in the country, and nearly three-quarters of their point-scoring from a year ago. Senior Spencer Naas is UConn’s top-returning goal scorer after netting 15 goals last season.
Losing Thompson, and his team-leading 19-goal, 13-assist season from a year ago will certainly hurt, but the Huskies are well-equipped to fill the void.
Senior defenseman Derek Pratt will wear the captain patch for the second straight season, a proven leader on the ice. Junior Maxim Letunov, who led the team in assists last season, is also a key familiar face for the Huskies. In goal, sophomore Adam Huska will look to build on a strong freshman year in which he recorded a .928 save percentage against conference foes.
Five fresh faces will also dress for the Huskies. Although there are some concerns whether this UConn team can score enough goals to compete with the country’s toughest hockey conference, the three freshman forwards, Evan Wisocky, Zac Robbins, and Brian Rigali, should all make an immediate impact. The freshman class is rounded out by defenseman Adam Karashik, whose team won the USHL Clark Cup back in April, and goaltender Bradley Stone, a London native.
The Huskies are 3-4-1 in season-opening series under Cavanaugh, and are tied 3-3-3 all-time against UMaine. They’ll look to take the lead in the series, and open the year with a pair of victories, on Friday at 7:30 pm, and Saturday at 4:30 pm.
As Cavanaugh said in anticipation of the series: “It’s going to be a war.”
Andrew Morrison is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com. He tweets at @asmor24