The 2022-23 regular season for the No. 19 UConn men’s hockey team has come to a close, but the job is nowhere near finished as the Hockey East Tournament looms this weekend. For their last regular season series, the Huskies played a home-and-home series with Boston College. For the series finale hosted in Storrs at the Toscano Family Ice Forum, the team had a senior day ceremony to celebrate their six seniors; Ty Amonte, Justin Pearson, Roman Kinal, Jake Flynn, Harrison Rees and Ryan Keane.
“They have been a great group this year and I’m looking forward to bigger and better things with this group going forward in March,” said head coach Mike Cavanaugh on the senior class this season.
Two seniors in particular, the defensemen duo of Rees and Flynn, are four-year players for UConn. Both have grown with the team, experiencing ups and downs, but ultimately have made significant impacts on the program in their time as Huskies.
Rees is from Oakville, Ontario, Canada. He has played in 126 total games for the Huskies, having 29 career assists and eight career goals. Although it seems like a pretty large step in someone’s life to move so far away from home, coming to Connecticut to play hockey was a fairly easy decision for Rees and his family four years ago.
“When I started playing hockey and lacrosse I knew I wanted to play in the states,” Rees said. “Choosing Connecticut was pretty easy, it’s a gorgeous campus, the people are all nice here, the weather is actually pretty much the same [as Ontario] so I didn’t feel like I was moving that far away from home. My parents are able to visit whenever they can so it’s actually really nice to be here and it reminds me a lot of home.”
On the other hand, Flynn is from Bridegewater, Massachusetts. He has played in 119 total games for the Huskies with 30 career assists and nine career goals. Flynn grew up with two siblings, one brother and one sister. His brother specifically was a huge inspiration for why he started playing hockey and finding a love for the sport.
“My brother started playing before me, so everything he did I kind of followed in his footsteps,” noted Flynn. “He always wanted to play so it always made me want to play against him and we battled it out, it made for good competition.”
Making connections is an important part of what makes a team succeed on and off the ice. It also is what creates the best memories for a player as their time with a team comes to an end.
“I think our teammates have a lot to do with how our experience went the past four years. I’ve been able to build really good relationships and friendships with Flynn, Kinal,” said Rees. “Whether it’s guys in my class or freshmen this year coming in – just everybody opens up and everyone is a great guy so it makes the experience what it is. It’s just awesome to have a bunch of friends in a locker room together.”
Cavanaugh has also been a part of Rees and Flynn’s journeys at UConn for all four years, having a large impact on them as players and individual people.
“He’s been awesome,” said Flynn of Cavanaugh. “We talked about how we come in here and we are a lot younger and we are probably immature but I think as we go along they guide us into being the people we are today. As much as we are on the ice getting better, I think as much off the ice we are growing as men and we become great people from being around him and the staff.”
For the majority of their time at UConn, their home arena was in Hartford at the XL Center. However, this season UConn opened a new on-campus arena with facilities for both the men and women’s hockey teams. Since the grand opening in January, the team hosted a students-only game which has made for a greater presence and environment of hockey in the college atmosphere.
“It’s a lot different, playing in Hartford is really cool,” Rees mentioned. “We have a nice locker room and rink there, we can pack it with a lot more fans. Just having this [Toscano] close on campus, all the students can come – we have everything we need here; training room, weight room, our locker room is unreal. It just makes the experience so much better for us as players. We get better every day, it’s just really cool to see.”
In four years of college hockey, it can be hard to narrow down the top moments. Although from this year alone, the team has gotten the experience of playing at some of the best locations in all of sports.
“You can take it back to freshman year or even last year, just big games in the playoffs,” said Flynn. “I think going to the Garden for the first time was awesome. Being from Boston it was really cool – I mean it was a tough loss but playing at Fenway this year – being from the area, you see it growing up and finally getting to experience it is the best.”
“I think there’s a lot of great moments from this season, obviously MSG was pretty cool,” Rees noted. “I think just the highlight of this year is opening this place up [Toscano] – it just gives us everything we need and it’s just a great experience to have.”
As one of the veteran leaders of this year’s squad, Flynn has experienced Hockey East Tournaments in previous seasons; he especially remembers the feeling of last season’s final where the Huskies dropped a heartbreaking loss to UMass. Flynn has a positive outlook on this year’s tournament, knowing that the team has unfinished business and hopes to help take the team all the way this time around.
“We got a taste of it last year,” said Flynn. “We have a lot of new guys but I think we are trying to reiterate as much as possible to the guys that haven’t experienced it yet how awesome it is – how we were that close last year and we want to get it done this year. Just to stay on the right path – don’t get the highs too high and the lows too low. Just do what we can and I think that we are going to go far.”
Flynn and Rees still have one year of eligibility from their COVID-19 years. They have yet to decide whether they will return for a fifth year or move forward from their UConn career.
“We are really focused on the present, I would certainly take them back if the right pro option did not work for them, there is no question I would take those two back,” said Cavanaugh on Rees and Flynn. “They have been unbelievable kids on and off the ice for us for four years – if they were so inclined to stay for a fifth year I would love for them to have it here at UConn, but we will have those conversations when the season ends.”
The Huskies finished the regular season with a 20-11-3 overall record and 13-9-2 in conference play. They performed the best at their home arenas at the XL Center and the new Toscano Family Ice Forum, posting a 12-3-2 record there and a 7-5-1 record at away games. Luckily for them, a UMass Lowell loss to Northeastern resulted in UConn gaining the higher seed on the standings, giving them a home game for the Hockey East Tournament quarterfinals. No. 4 UConn will host No. 5 UMass Lowell at the Toscano Family Ice Forum in front of the arena’s first ever sold-out crowd on Saturday, March 11 at 4 p.m.