Men’s Hockey: Huskies headed in right direction

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With one of the best incoming classes in the nation, the future is looking bright at the XL Center. (Jon Sammis/The Daily Campus)

Despite once again coming up empty in the Hockey East playoffs, the UConn men’s hockey team’s fourth season in college hockey’s most competitive conference was its most successful one.

The Huskies finished fifth in the conference, good enough to earn an automatic berth in the Hockey East Quarterfinals. Although the Huskies couldn’t collect a win during their two-game sweep at the hands of Boston University, the fact that one goal separated the two teams in each game shows how UConn has progressed since joining Hockey East in 2014.

“Every year we’ve gotten better and better,” head coach Mike Cavanaugh said after UConn’s season-ending 2-1 loss. “I don’t want to say we’re on par with BU, but one through 25 it’s getting a lot closer.”

It was a long and winding road to get to the playoffs. At the beginning of the season, it looked like the Huskies couldn’t decide what kind of team they wanted to be as they struggled to gather any positive momentum. When they lost starting goaltender Adam Huska to injury in the midst of a five-game losing streak, it looked like UConn’s season was effectively over.

They proceeded to pull off the most impressive winning streak in the history of the program. For almost a month, it seemed like UConn could do no wrong as it won seven straight games, four of those wins coming over nationally-ranked opponents.

Senior goaltender Tanner Creel thrived between the pipes, finishing the regular season with an .891 save percentage and a 7-2 record as the starting goalie.

Creel wasn’t the only senior to leave a lasting impression in his final season in a Huskies’ uniform.

Spencer Naas’ 12 goals on the season increased his career total, moving the senior forward into a tie for third all-time with Andrew Olsen on UConn’s Division I scoring list. Naas and fellow seniors Derek Pratt, David Drake, Corey Ronan, Jesse Schwartz, Kasperi Okantakanen and Jeff Wight should all receive credit for helping to build the foundation UConn now stands on.

Cavanaugh couldn’t thank his seniors enough after the season ended.

“In four short years, they took a program that was hoping to compete, to (a program) expecting to win,” said Cavanaugh. “I hope our younger guys can appreciate and keep that going forward.”

UConn will reload for next season with a recruiting class that you’ll often find ranked near the top of every college hockey website. But they’ll also be filling a hole that maybe they didn’t foresee. Junior Max Letunov is leaving UConn after three seasons to go to the NHL and join the San Jose Sharks. Letunov’s departure leaves a gaping 28-point hole in the Huskies lineup

It will now be up to talented incoming forwards like Carter Turnball and John Wojchiechowski to mix in with remaining players like Alexander Payusov and Karl El-Mir and fill the offensive void.

Regardless of how the team looks next year, one thing is certain.

They’ll expect to win some games.


Bryan Lambert is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at bryan.lambert@uconn.edu.

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