UConn is a basketball school. Labeled the “Basketball Capital of the World”, it is hard to forget that the school’s high arching name is built on basketball.
But this winter, the ice bus may steal some of the spotlight. Last season, the UConn men’s hockey team brought fans a feeling of belonging in Hockey East, and as a relevant program at UConn. They exploded for a remarkable seven-game winning streak last February, as they became one of the most compelling sports stories on campus.
The streak marked the true arrival of UConn in NCAA’s most prestigious hockey conference, Hockey East, as it included victories against the top four teams in the conference. They rolled through Providence, Boston College, Northeastern, and Boston University along the way to longest winning streak in program history.
On February 16th, they capped the streak with a thrilling 5-4 overtime win against the BU Terriers. Facing 3-1 and 4-2 deficits in the third period, the Huskies stunned the Terriers by coming back to win in overtime. The sold-out XL center erupted into bedlam having just witnessed the biggest win in program history. It was a Friday night, and this game was the place to be.
The win was not only significant because of the might of the opponent and the playoff implications. It was not only amazing because they rallied from down two goals late in the game. Instead, the most resonating part of the win was that it was the final piece to making UConn a relevant force in Hockey East and on campus. It opened the door to a tremendously bright future for the Huskies. No longer could the touted programs of Hockey East ignore UConn.
The Huskies earned a bye in the first round of the Hockey East Playoffs for the first time, as they were slotted in as the five seed for the tournament. They fell to four seeded Boston University, bringing an end to their historic season.
This leaves them with heightened expectations heading into the new season, and tons of young talent poised to meet them. Neutral Zone ranks UConn’s incoming freshman class as the second best in division I college hockey. The class includes eight forwards, and multiple 2018 NHL draft picks. The class is highlighted by New York Islanders second round pick Ruslan Iskhakov out of Moscow, Russia, who committed to UConn in June.
Jachym Kondelik, Kale Howarth, Jonny Evans, Jordan Timmins, Carter Turnbull, Corson Green, Marc Gatcomb, Roman Kinal, Ryan Wheeler, John Wojciechowski, and Tomas Vomacka make up the remainder of the Huskies’ sparkling new class. The strength of this group points to the strides head coach Mike Cavanaugh has made with this program, putting them on the map in Hockey East after just four seasons in the conference.
To ignite this rise, Cavanagh and his staff have flashed their strength and creativity in recruiting, pulling some of the biggest international names to UConn. They have built a program that will compete with the top teams in Hockey East for years to come, while developing a unique hockey culture that only exists at UConn. Following the victory against Boston College during UConn’s long winning streak, Cavanaugh was asked if he hopes to emulate the historic program that BC has. He countered, “I don’t want to be like BC,” Cavanaugh said. “I want to be like UConn. If I look around at the other programs in the athletic department, whether it’s Geno’s program, what the men’s basketball program built, what Ray Reid has done with his soccer program, how Jim Penders continually wins with his baseball team, Nancy Stevens has won three national championships in the last five years. …So, I just want to be like UConn. I don’t want to be like BC. I want to build this program to the expectations the University of Connecticut has for us.”
And as the program continues to grow, we may get to watch it become one of the more prestigious programs in college hockey. The countless thrilling moments from the 2017-2018 season may have only been a preview of what is to come for the ice bus.
Dylan Barrett is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.