By: Dan McLoone
Head Coach: Mike Cavanaugh (3rd Season)
Last Season: 10-19-7 (HE: 7-11-4, 9th Place)
Departures: G Tom Comunale, F Trevor Gerling, F Brent Norris, D Jacob Poe, F Cody Sharib, F Brad Smith, F Ryan Tyson
Newcomers: G Tanner Creel, F Max Kalter, F Karl El-Mir, D Miles Gendron, F Maxim Letunov, D Joseph Masonius, F Marco Richter, F Tage Thompson
Head coach Mike Cavanaugh’s squad proved to be no pushover in their first year in Hockey East after moving over from the Atlantic Hockey Conference. Despite low expectations league-round, the Huskies managed to rack up several impressive wins, including big upsets over Boston College, UMass Lowell and Vermont early on in the season. Connecticut won’t be sneaking up on anyone this year, but they will still look to climb further up the Hockey East standings.
Key to an improvement for UConn will be the play of junior netminder Rob Nichols. Nichols logged 94 percent of the minutes in goal last season and is the only goalie on the roster with playing experience. Sophomores Steve Thulin and Tanner Creel round out the goalies, but it will be up to Nichols to man the pipes. His 2.73 goals against average and .918 save percentage were middle of the pack in Hockey East, but he logged more minutes in goal than anyone not named Thatcher Demko or Jon Gillies.
Defensively, Connecticut lost a key presence in Jacob Poe, a versatile player who also was the Huskies’ most offensive-minded defender. They return a few talented sophomores in Johnny Austin, Derek Pratt and Flyers draft pick David Drake. All three will be expected to take steps forward and help solidify a Husky defense that was near the bottom of the conference. Senior Kyle Huson will take on the leadership role defensively, while juniors Joona Kunnas and Penguins draft pick Ryan Segalla will see expanded minutes. Cavanaugh added two defenders in his 2019 recruiting class, both of whom come to Storrs with high expectations. Miles Gendron was a fourth round pick by the Senators in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, and Joseph Masonius is a USA Hockey National Team Developmental standout.
The biggest bane for the Huskies last season, however, was their scoring. Despite pulling off some big wins, Cavanaugh’s team never quite figured out ways to consistently score, finishing last in Hockey East with just 66 goals scored and converting on a putrid 10.5 percent of power play opportunities. Senior Sean Pauly led the squad in scoring last season with his 20 points, but he will need to create even more opportunities this year if UConn is to improve. Three returning front liners had promising freshmen years, with Spencer Naas, Kasperi Ojantakanen and Corey Ronan scoring 17, 12 and 11 points, respectively. They will need to take a big step forward to bring Connecticut’s offense more scoring diversity. A talented group of freshmen newcomers looking to contribute include Tage Thompson and Max Kalter, but the prize recruit for UConn this year is Russian forward Maxim Letunov. Originally slated to go to Boston University and offered scholarships by many top programs as an elite prospect, complications with the BU admissions process prompted Letunov to attend Connecticut. He will have every opportunity to prove himself against tough Hockey East competition.
Bottom Line: Entering their second year in Hockey East, Cavanaugh and the Huskies have already accomplished more than they were expected to. The recruitment of Letunov shows that UConn may become a viable destination for top recruits. The Huskies enjoyed some early success last season, but some of that can probably be attributed to their Hockey East opponents being unfamiliar with them. Don’t expect to see UConn anywhere near the top of the standing, as a regression to 11th or 12th place is a more likely outcome.