Hockey East Preview- University of Connecticut Huskies

BY: JEREMY LEOPOLD

Head Coach- Mike Cavanaugh (2nd year)

Last Season- 18-14- 4 overall (15-9-3 Atlantic Hockey Conference)

Losses- F Billy Latta, F Jordan Sims, F Brant Harris,F Jo Birmingham, F Sean Gaffney, D Kevin Tuohy, D Chris Bond, D Christian Neumann, G Matt Grogran

Additions- F Will Golonka, F Kasperi Ojantakanen, F Spencer Naas, F Jeff Wright, F Jesse Schwartz, F Corey Ronan, F Evan Richardson, D Johnny Austin, D David Drake, D Derek Pratt, G Steve Thulin

The Huskies are the newcomer to Hockey East this year, coming over after years of solid play in the Atlantic Hockey Conference.

In addition to a new conference, Coach Cavanaugh’s squad is going to have a much different look than last year with massive change among the forwards and in net.

UConn’s top three forwards are all gone in Billy Latta, Brant Harris, and Jordan Sims. While it will be tough to replace their 74 combined points, the biggest loss while be the leadership of last year’s captain Harris. Harris netted 11 goals and assisted on 15 others last season, 2nd and t-1st on the team respectively, and led the team in plus/minus at plus 11. With seven new forwards including Boston College transfer, Evan Richardson, the Huskies offense is hoping to retool despite the fact that the other six besides Richardson are all freshman. Unless junior Shawn Pauly and senior Trevor Gerling (21 and 20 points respectively) step up in a major way it is more likely that the offense will be rebuilding this year instead of retooling.

Along the blue line, there is a little more continuity with no major contributors from last year leaving the program. The defense was solid, but not spectacular last year allowing 2.38 g/gm but they should get even better this year with their top three defenseman, Jacob Poe, Ryan Segalla, and Joona Kunnnas, all returning with another year of experience. Poe, had the most points for the Huskies among defenseman last season with 15 and also posted a plus/ minus of plus 10, good for 2nd on the team. As a senior this season Poe should be just as solid. The more interesting UConn defensmen, however, are sophomores Segalla and Kunnas, who both had excellent freshman campaigns last season playing in 34 and 32 games respectively and combining for 27 points. For both there were some freshman mistakes and it showed, especially for Segalla who ended up with a plus/minus of minus 3 compared to Kunnas’ plus 1. With a year of college hockey under their belt, expect both to improve dramaticaly, in turn improving UConn’s defense.

In goal, last year’s starter Matt Grogan is gone and despite a solid season with a .923 save percentage in 25 starts, the Huskies are likely to get even better next year with sophomore Robby Nichols taking over in net full time. Nichols only played in 13 games as a freshman (11 starts) but he was spectacular when he played, posting two shutouts and a save percentage of .939, averaging less than 2 g/gm (1.91),  and going 8-2-2. Grogan was solid for UConn last year but there is little doubt that Nichols is a step up this year.

UConn had a good year last year in the Atlantic Hockey Conference. The Hockey East is not the Atlantic Hockey Conference. While the change in conference has already seemed to help with recruiting with two very good recruiting classes the past two years, it will take a while before the Huskies will be able to contend in their new conference.

Bottom line: Cavanaugh’s squad has players that were very successful in a lesser talented conference last year. If that success can carry over against stiffer competition and if the incoming freshman play out of their mind, the Huskies are looking at a middle of the pack finish. That is the best case scenario, however. More likely there will be typical growing pains for the freshman and a steep learning curve for the upperclassmen who have to adjust to the tougher league, resulting in UConn toiling near the bottom of the conference for the next few years until they become more of a hockey school like the other members of Hockey East.