The Ice Bus is getting fueled up and is almost ready to leave the station! The UConn men’s hockey season gets underway this Saturday when they travel to Bridgeport to take on Sacred Heart. Puck drop is set for 7 p.m.
This looks to be a bounce-back season for the Huskies who finished ninth in Hockey East last year with a 12-20-2 record. However, they did finish on a high note, winning their last two games including an upset of the No. 2 team in the country, UMass. Senior captain Benjamin Freeman said that ending helped gain some momentum heading into this season.
“We know what our potential really was,” Freeman said. “So I think we just put in that extra work this summer so we can solidify our potential and make sure we’re working hard.”
This is still a really young team with 18 of the 26 players on the roster still underclassmen. However, the freshmen last year made up the bulk of the team, and now those players are a year older and more experienced.
“I think the biggest jump guys make is from their freshman to sophomore year,” head coach Mike Cavanaugh said last week. “It’s so hard when you have that freshman year. Everything’s so new…But now when you come back, you feel so much more comfortable.”
Sophomores expected to have a huge impact for the Huskies this year include standout forwards Ruslan Iskhavoc and Jonny Evans and goalie Tomas Vomacka.
Vomacka, who burst onto the scene in the second half of last season and played terrific, has the potential to be one of the top goalies in the conference. Cavanaugh seemed really impressed with his offseason improvements, saying that Vomacka increased his vertical jump by 12 inches, helping his explosiveness in net.
“It’s good to see some results,” Vomacka said. “I’ve been working hard last summer, this summer, so it’s good to see some improvement.”
Even though there aren’t many upperclassmen on the team, the ones they do have will be key for this team. The leadership group of captains Freeman and Wyatt Newpower and alternate captains Alexander Payusov and Adam Karashik will have a huge role this season.
“I know they’re going to do a commendable job leading this team this year,” Cavanaugh said.
Sacred Heart is coming off a season in which it went 16-17-4 and lost in the Atlantic Hockey quarterfinals to RIT. The Pioneers have had the Huskies’ number for a while now, as they have won the last six matchups dating back to 2014. UConn will look to finally break the “Curse of Sacred Heart” this Saturday. The two teams may meet again later this season during the first-ever Connecticut Ice Festival in January.
The Huskies were picked in the preseason coaches’ poll to finish ninth in Hockey East and miss out on the tournament again. Newpower said that poll means nothing.
“It is what it is,” Newpower said. “It’s a preseason poll. It doesn’t dictate where we’re going to finish at the end of the year, and quite frankly, it’s not all that important to us because at the end of the day, it’s how we’re going to step on the ice and play.”
The road to proving those coaches wrong starts Saturday.
Danny Barletta is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com. He tweets @dbars_12.