Feb. 21, 2014
- Contributed by Will Moran, voice of UConn Men's Hockey on WHUS 91.7 FM
Friday night will mark the final regular season home game for a group of UConn seniors whose combination of personal success and group influence is unrivaled in the history of Husky hockey. Billy Latta, Brant Harris, Jordan Sims and Matt Grogan have helped carry Connecticut to unprecedented levels of success through hard work, leadership and skill. The four young men have overseen and cultivated a culture change that has laid the foundation for a successful transition into the program’s next chapter while etching their names into history as the most successful graduating class to date.
Billy Latta has acted as the heart and soul of UConn hockey since his arrival in Storrs four years ago. “I remember during his sophomore year we were going through a rough stretch and Billy was the one who stepped up, brought everyone together and held guys accountable. He cares the most about this team, puts his heart and soul into the team every day,” Cody Sharib said.
“Billy is the definition of a captain, he eats and sleeps UConn hockey,” Tyler Bouchard said. Spending two years with a letter stitched to his jersey, Latta has been an integral part of creating a winning culture on a foundation of accountability and respect. “Billy is not a typical upperclassmen,” sophomore Kyle Huson said, “He didn’t treat the freshman any differently, he respected us right away.”
Coming into action Friday, Latta sits six points away from crossing 100 in his career, an indicator of the offensive skill and work ethic Latta possess. “Billy has great skill, he one-times the puck as well as anyone on our team and can create his own shot,” Head Coach Mike Cavanaugh said of his captain.
“Billy’s a deceptively good passer, he finds seams in little areas, and he gets good shots and has a great one timer. He’s just a natural goal scorer,” Bouchard said.
“The speed he processes the game at and the skill he has is the best on the team,” Sharib said.
Even with all the offensive skill, Billy set out to improve his defensive responsibility this year, something that hasn’t gone unnoticed. “He committed to his defense this year and he’s one of our team leaders in blocked shots,” Coach Cavanaugh said. “Anything we’ve asked him to do has been done, that’s been essential to our success.”
Latta’s off ice personality differs greatly from is game time demeanor, as house-mate Cody Sharib knows well. “I thought he was the most serious guy until I started living with him,” Sharib said. “He’s a goofball, he likes to have a good time. He’s a good guy and fun to be around,” Brant Harris said.
Upon reflecting on his career at UConn, Latta is grateful for the opportunities that have been available to him. “We always got a fair chance, we earned the positions we were put in and made sure we led and got better,” Latta said. “I’m going to miss the relationships and the thrill of being in a locker room with 30 brothers. It’s pretty unique because you have a special relationship with each guy.”
Brant Harris will likely leave UConn as the most dominant four year player to ever pull on a Husky sweater. Sitting just one point shy of tying the Division 1 career scoring record heading into Friday night, Harris has consistently been one of Connecticut’s most effective offensive threats.
“Brant is your typical power forward. He skates well, shoots well and stays strong on the puck,” Coach Cavanaugh said.
“Brant has the ideal hockey body and he has learned how to use his body the right way” Tyler Bouchard said.
“He’s embraced that role of a power forward, he’s found his niche and has become successful in the dirty areas,” Latta said.
“He’s got good speed for his size and you know when he hits you.” “Since I’ve played here, he’s been in the best shape out of anyone,” Cody Sharib said. “He gives 110%, doesn’t take any shifts off and is the most aggressive guy on our team.”
Harris accompanies Billy Latta in wearing a “C” on his jersey, but has a different leadership style. “We have our own ways of leading, when one of us is down the other guy is always there to pick us back up. We know each other really well and I think that is what has made us a successful group of leaders,” Latta said.
“Harry leads by his play, he’s aggressive and he works harder than anyone,” Joey Ferris said of his captain.
“He’s a guy anyone on the team can talk to. He never isolated anyone and he’s always respectful,” Bouchard said.
Harris’ professionalism and work ethic has been appreciated by his coaching staff as well as his teammates. “When Brant started this year injured, it was the first time he had really been hurt and he handled it like a pro,” Coach Cavanaugh said. “He didn’t sulk, he just did what needed to be done and now you’re starting to really see the player he is.”
Harris says he’ll miss his teammates upon graduation and the relationships that he’s built with them. “I’m going to miss the boys, just having everyone around, you can’t take that for granted.”
Jordan Sims will graduate UConn as one of the most productive centermen in UConn history. Sitting just seven assists away from tying former teammate for the all-time Division 1 mark, Sims has already crossed the 100 point plateau in his career. Still, Sims has been as effective in the offensive zone as he has been in his defensive end as well.
“There’s not just one aspect of his game that stands out,” Tyler Bouchard said. “He has elements of every piece of the game. He’s worked really hard of faceoffs, he’s great in all three zones. He’s the type of guy you can see playing after college because of how well rounded his game is.” “Jordan has underrated skill. He sees the ice well, skates well and is great defensively,” Joey Ferris said.
“Jordan is a smart defensive center, he talks with the defensemen and is always in the right position. It gives us confidence to stay within our system because we know we won’t have to compensate,” Kyle Huson said. Coach Cavanaugh has seen Sims’ game improve this year as well.
“Jordan is a great center, he’s got great speed, vision and hockey sense. His strength on the puck has improved along with his ability to win one on one battles below the goal line.”
“Jordan brings consistency. He’s a quiet leader on the ice, he’s our strongest center as a defensive cover guy,” Cody Sharib said. “Sims is great at being low and strong in the defensive zone, he gets open as an outlet in the defensive and neutral zone. He’s not the most vocal guy, but game to game he is probably our most consistent player,” Jacob Poe said.
While quiet on the ice and in the locker room, Sims opens up a little when away from the rink.
“He’s a goofball. He’s always energetic, makes guys smile and brings that energy whenever he’s around,” Sharib said. “He’s really talkative away from the rink,” Brant Harris said. “Once he gets going you can’t stop him.”
Sims ability to produce offensively at a high end level with his defensive game has made him into a special player, one that UConn will have trouble replicating. Sims assets to UConn have been unique, but his competitiveness might be what has truly set him apart. “Jordan hates losing more than anyone else,” Tyler Bouchard said.
Matt Grogan has faced his fair share of adversity as a Husky and has emerged as a respected leader and a dominant goaltender for UConn.
“Matt gives the defense a lot of confidence because we know he’s going to make the stops. We don’t stray from our systems to make up for anything,” Kyle Huson said.
“He keeps our confidence up, he communicates really well with the defense, it’s like having a sixth skater out there,” defensemen Kevin Tuohy said.
“One thing about Grogs is that he’ll never blame anyone for a goal, even if it was your mistake. He’s not a guy that will yell at you. He’s quiet, positive and just goes about his business. When he does speak though, he’s one of the most respected guys on the team.”
That respect comes from the way Matt has handled himself throughout his career in a Husky uniform. His professionalism and demeanor have made him a special player. “Matt’s demeanor is his greatest asset. He’s calm, he has quick legs, covers the crease well and he’s fundamentally sound,” Coach Cavanaugh said.
“Matt is the ultimate teammate,” Billy Latta said. “It’s not easy to sit and watch someone play your position, but he’s never balked at the idea of that. He just continues to work and he took advantage of his opportunity.”
“Matt has just stayed consistent in the way he works. Whether he’s been a backup or a starter, his work ethic has never changed,” Jacob Poe said.
Freshman Robby Nichols has been a competitor with Grogan for the starting job this year, but also a student to the way Grogan plays the game. “I try to follow in his footsteps,” Nichols said. “He has a controlled playing style, which is something that I needed to work on. I watch him and adapt my game towards his.”
“Grogs is the most unique guy on the team. His attitude hasn’t changed and I can’t say many other guys would be like that. He’s mostly a quiet guy, but when he does speak it’s usually pretty good,” classmate Brant Harris said.
Grogan’s greatest improvement this year has been his ability to read the play and anticipate in certain situations, according to Coach Cavanaugh. When all is said and done for the fifth year senior, Grogan wants to be remembered in a simple way. “I just tried to do the right thing and lead by example. I don’t try to stand out too much, I just try to take care of my own stuff,” Grogan said.
This class of four seniors has helped elevate UConn to a championship caliber team and is still in pursuit of that ultimate goal.
“I want to remember this class as the first one to win an Atlantic Hockey championship. This has never been a throw away year, winning a championship sets an example and gets the ball rolling for the future,” Coach Cavanaugh said.
The culture that this group has helped create has been essential to getting to this point, something Coach Cavanaugh doesn’t take for granted. “As a team that battled so deep into the playoffs last year, they believed they could compete and that’s half the battle. It was a luxury to have that in this team.”
Fellow Huskies agree on the impact this class has had.
“They brought us into more of a serious program. They are collectively our best class in history. It’s amazing what they’ve done for this program,” Cody Sharib said.
“They brought a sense of seriousness and a winning attitude. They made us believe that we were capable of beating any team in the country,” Chris Bond said.
“They’ve had a tremendous influence. A lot of leadership and skill. We’ve been through a lot of tough times and they’ve kept us grounded and focused on the goals we want to achieve,” Kyle Huson said.
“I just hope we put the program in a good spot from the first day we were here to the last day. I honestly think that by the time we leave the program, it will be in a better place than when we got here and that’s a special thing,” Latta said.
The most dominant class in UConn history has left a legacy of improvement, leadership, work ethic and commitment to the team that will continue to last for years to come. As UConn Hockey continues to grow, players such as Billy Latta, Brant Harris, Jordan Sims and Matt Grogan will continue to be at the foundation of what has made Husky hockey successful.