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2004-05 Season Preview

With a young squad in last year, UConn men’s hockey coach Bruce Marshall feels that his team made great strides toward the end of the season, winning seven of its last 11 games, but left work undone.

Now the 2004-05 team will look to begin where last year’s group left off.

“It gets you hungry and excited to come back to the rink,” says Marshall, “But, trying to capture the pains and the struggles that we went through, to make those fresh in our minds so we can continue at that same point and continue going up even further, is going to be the real challenge for us. We made some strides and opened some eyes in the league with our young group of guys. Another key is not just assuming because you are young that you are going to be better next year. It’s a whole other year with a whole new set of games and a whole new set of good nights and bad nights.”

The Huskies return five seniors for 2004-05, led by captain and Atlantic Hockey Player of the Year Tim Olsen (Vadnais Heights, Minn.). Olsen led the team with 41 points on 20 goals and 21 assists and captured the league’s regular season scoring trophy. “This season, Tim is going to have to learn to play as a marked man, “ says, Marshall, “He kind of just snuck up on teams at the end of last season. I think that’s motivation enough for him to say ‘You know what, I am a good player, I can play that way every single night’, it wasn’t just a great month and a half of hockey.”

Senior forwards Matt Grew (Yarmouthport, Mass.) and Beau McLaughlin (Virginia Beach, Va.) return healthy this season, as Grew was sidelined last year after back surgery and McLaughlin ended 2003-04 injured after appearing in 27 games and posting 16 points on nine goals and seven assists.

Defensemen Adam Rhein (Cottage Grove, Minn.) and Mark Murphy (Jamestown, R.I.) round out the senior class. Rhein has been a steady three year performer for UConn, missing just three games over his three- year career and Murphy gives the Huskies another dimension as an offensive threat from the blueline, posting career-best numbers in 2003-04 with six goals, 11 assists for 17 points.

“Hopefully, those two can step into the role Eric Nelson played for us during his years here,” says Marshall, “he was a solid defenseman back there for us, we always knew what we were getting out of Nelly every night and now one of those two is going to have to be that certain guy who has a presence out there.”

Forwards Eric St. Arnauld (Marquette, Mich.), Chris Uber (Ithaca, N.Y.) and defenseman Aaron Kakepetum (Balmertown, Ont.) make up the 2004-05 junior class. Uber had a breakout year last season, with 25 points on seven goals and 18 assists over 32 games, good for third on the team in scoring and also recording a team best plus-10 rating in plus/minus. St. Arnauld contributed 12 points.

“St. Arnauld, Uber and Kakepetum have helped make the transition with the whole new team that we have and now its time for them to really entrench themselves in the type of player that they are” Marshall says. “They know what our expectations of them are now, they just need to fulfill those.”

UConn returns 14 sophomores, highlighted by Atlantic Hockey All-Rookie Team selection Matt Scherer (Seattle, Wash.), who finished second on the team in points with 29 on 12 goals and 17 assists.

“Scherer had a great year and he needs to continue to do that,” says Marshall, “He gets his points from hard work, not a lot of razzle dazzle type stuff. He needs to play that way because it’s a benchmark for the other guys on the team to look at how hard he competes.”

Marshall will also look to Cole Koidahl (Minneapolis, Minn.) to have an impact this season. Koidahl registered 16 points on seven goals and nine assists in 2003-04.

“Cole is more of the playmaking type, he had some success as a freshman in a playmaking type role and now I want more of a difference on the scoreboard so I think we’re looking for him to do that,” says Marshall, “The rest of the group needs to realize that they were successful last year because we played our roles well and tried not to change our game too much as a group. They need to continue to do those things that make them good solid hockey players, not to say ‘O.K. now I’m a sophomore I’m going to elevate my game.’ I think we need to keep people in checks and balances and say ‘Hey, this is where you fit in’.”

In net, the Huskies return sophomore Scott Tomes (Windham, N.H.). Tomes earned the job as starting netminder his freshman season, playing in 34 games and recording a 3.31 goals against average with a .895 save percentage. Marshall feels that freshman goaltenders Matt Demas (Summerville, S.C.) and Brad Smith (Detroit, Mich.) will add some depth to the position and will allow Tomes a rest and hopefully elevate his play.

With five of last year’s starters returning, Marshall expects tough competition among the freshman for a spot in the lineup.

“You have a lot of guys in front of them,” Marshall says. “They’re going to have to find a way to add something different that one of those other 12 forwards or six defensemen can do a little better or a little more consistently.”

Marshall sees the 2004-05 schedule as one of the team’s biggest challenges of this upcoming season.

“I don’t think we’ve ever played a schedule this demanding with this many challenges,” he says, “Besides the fact that our league has gotten tremendously stronger where they’re beating teams from the other four leagues. Atlantic Hockey is being well represented.”

The Huskies begin the 2004-05 season on October 9 at the Maverick Stampede in Omaha, Neb., where they will face the University of Nebraska-Omaha in the teams’ first ever meeting. Next, UConn will travel to Rensselaer, Massachusetts, Dartmouth and Northeastern. Rensselaer and Dartmouth finished in a tie for fourth in the ECAC in 2003-04 and Massachusetts ended the regular season in third place in Hockey East and competed in the Hockey East Tournament final.

UConn then returns home on November 6 for its Atlantic Hockey opener against Mercyhurst, a team that finished second in the league last season. After the brief home stint, UConn takes the road again to play a pair of games against Central Collegiate Hockey Association’s Ferris State in Big Rapids, Mich., and two conference contests in Buffalo, N.Y. against Canisius.

Connecticut finally settles into its home schedule with just two out of its next seven matchups between November 23 and January 2 being played in Storrs; including the Toyota UConn Hockey Classic, slated for December 30 and 31. The Huskies will take on Holy Cross in its first game of the Classic, followed by either Brown or Merrimack on day two.

In January, UConn plays host to Union and then travels to Army for a two-game series at West Point, N.Y. followed by a conference home and away set against Quinnipiac. On January 18, the team faces Sacred Heart at home before taking the road to round out its 2004-05 non-conference schedule against Yale and Providence. The Huskies then end the month with an Atlantic Hockey home and away series against American International.

February opens with two more home and away two-game series against league opponents Sacred Heart and Bentley. Connecticut next plays host to Holy Cross on February 15 before traveling to Mercyhurst on Feb. 18 and 19 and rounding out the regular season at American International on March 1 and then back to Storrs for senior night on March 3 against Quinnipiac.

“Before we even get to a league game, we’ll be battle tested and hopefully, it will make us stronger in the end,” says Marshall, “I think this group can handle it and if they come in with the right mindset, I think they will gain some valuable experience out of it. What must be in their minds most of the year is that the season is a marathon and not a sprint.”