Over the past month, the UConn men’s hockey team has won seven consecutive games, including wins over No. 8 Providence, No. 19 Boston College, No. 12 Northeastern and No. 20 Boston University. The Huskies currently sit tied for fifth in the Hockey East standings.
With starting goaltender Adam Huska out indefinitely with an injured wrist, senior Tanner Creel has stepped up immensely. Creel has been the backstop of a Huskies defense that has allowed 2.57 goals per game over the past seven games.
Junior Maxim Letunov has scored in four straight games, including the overtime game-winner Friday night that set the XL Center into a frenzy. Letunov leads UConn with 27 points and 16 assists.
Senior Spencer Naas has a career-best point streak extending across the same seven game span. Naas is second on the team with 21 points this season, one point shy of tying his career high set last year.
The wheels on the Ice Bus are rolling, to say the least.
Meanwhile, former Husky Tage Thompson was recently sent from the St. Louis Blues to their AHL affiliate. After a decent start to his NHL career, the rookie cooled down, recording just one point in his last nine games before being sent to the minors.
Thompson had three goals and three assists in 24 games at the NHL level. In 28 games with the Blues’ AHL affiliate this season, Thompson has scored eight goals and recorded 10 assists.
With Thompson’s demotion and UConn’s hot streak, it begs the question: How good would this team be if Thompson had stayed for another year? While we absolutely cannot fault anybody for wanting to play professionally, it’s intriguing to picture Thompson with this year’s Ice Bus squad.
At the end of last season, Thompson announced that he would be leaving UConn to sign a contract with the Blues, leaving Storrs after his sophomore season.
In his two years with the Huskies, Thompson put up 64 points over 70 games. Of his 33 career goals, 20 of them came on the power play. Thompson scored 19 goals in his sophomore season, nine more than UConn’s leading goal scorer so far this year.
While this year’s UConn team has been hot recently, it’s still under .500 with a 15-16-2 record. The Huskies are unlikely to get a bid into the NCAA Tournament unless they survive the gauntlet that is the Hockey East Championship Tournament.
Only 16 teams make the NCAA Tournament and UConn ranks 31st in RPI. Four teams from Hockey East made the tournament last season, but the worst record of those four was 21-11-5.
Thompson’s presence at UConn would obviously help the Huskies, but would it be enough? UConn already ranks 20th in power play scoring percentage, converting on just over 20 percent of its power play opportunities. Last season with Thompson leading the power play, the Huskies converted on just 16.3 percent of their chances.
The Huskies don’t have a goal scorer that is as dominant as Thompson was – Alexander Payusov leads the team with 12 goals – but Payusov has taken over on the power play, scoring the same number of goals (nine) as Thompson did last season.
Thompson was much more than just a power play goal scorer, but UConn has outperformed the expectations of many in his absence. The Huskies won just 12 games last season and have easily surpassed that total this season without their former best player.
UConn has just one game remaining in the regular season, a Thursday game against UMass at the XL Center. The Huskies will have plenty of momentum heading into the Hockey East Tournament, where they’ll need to play their best hockey for three or four consecutive series.
With Thompson or without him, this year’s UConn team is going to have a tough task ahead.
Josh Buser is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.