By Will Moran, Voice of the Huskies on WHUS 91.7 FM
As UConn prepares to honor the six seniors that make up the 2015 graduating class, they will say goodbye to a group that has cultivated a lasting bond through change and adversity and has been an integral part of UConn's ascent to college hockey's most elite stage. Through coaching changes and league switches, this senior class has remained consistent in their effort, leadership and character. Long after the graduation of Tom Comunale, Jacob Poe, Brad Smith, Ryan Tyson, Trevor Gerling and Cody Sharib, their influence will continue to be felt and their example continue to be the expectation.
Ryan Tyson has been the model of consistency for UConn since his arrival in Storrs and the heartbeat of the Husky lineup on a nightly basis, something the first year captain takes a lot of pride in. "I just want to have that solid work ethic and gain respect from my teammates. That's something that is always important, something that I have been raised on and my parents have raised me with,
Tyson's game is defined mostly by his defensive capabilities, where his detailed approach has made him one of the best defensive forwards on the roster. "He is probably our best center in the d-zone, he's going to give it everything he has every single shift," Cody Sharib said. "When he is out there he is almost like having a third defenseman," Jacob Poe said. Tyson has overseen Connecticut's jump from Atlantic Hockey to Hockey East as the team's captain but his leadership style has mostly remained the same. "I want to lead by example. You have to be vocal at times in the locker room and that is something I have grown on as I've gotten more comfortable," Tyson said.
Despite only wearing a letter for one season, Tyson has been a leader for much longer. "Even last year when he didn't have a letter, he was definitely a leader," Gerling said. "He was a player guy other players could look up to and you could model yourself after his work ethic and his compete level. He has always been a guy who is very smart and knows how to handle himself in all situations. Tyson believes the example of the senior class will continue to be felt after their graduation. "We've been through the trenches and put our time in and we've worked hard for the program. I think that is something that we have maintained through our four years and expect guys in the future to do the same."
While Tyson's game has been based largely on play in the defensive end, this senior class's most gifted offensive player has been Trevor Gerling. "He has high offensive skill," Poe said. Gerling leads the class in in goals and points, have amassed over 60 career points despite only scoring once during his rookie season. While Gerling has maintained his offensive ability, he has also locked down on the details to become a more effective player. "I don't think I've had to change my game, I think I've kind of had to be a little bit more responsible in the defensive end and work from the d-zone out and take care of the puck in our end and the neutral zone and then once I was kind of stable there than I can let the creativity in the offensive zone take over," Gerling said.
Trevor has shared the ice often with Cody Sharib as a linemate who appreciates the level of skill and hard work Gerling brings to the ice. "He's a really good linemate to have," Sharib said. "He's a really skilled player but he'll go in and try to win every single battle. He likes to try and talk throughout a game and try new things out there and try to support you." The Huskies will miss the mix of skill and physicality that Gerling brings to the lineup, but Gerling believes he'll leave the program with something much more long lasting. "I think I'll remember the friendships I have developed with these guys. You're with these guys every single day and I think when I graduate these will be the five or six best friends that I have."
Cody Sharib has been a rock in the UConn lineup since his freshman season. He'll play his 130th game in a Husky uniform on Friday night and in each one of them he's established himself as one of the Huskies must merciless physical threats. "He's built like a linebacker, it's scary for other teams to look at," Jacob Poe said. A combination of size, speed and strength has allowed Sharib to score 24 goals while becoming an all-around player.
"I think my maturity level has grown, I have more discipline and my defensive game has gotten stronger," Sharib said. Sharib is a jovial personality off the ice and in the locker room, but he's not easy to defend, whether it be an opposing defenseman or a teammate in practice. "I like to battle in practice and make things hard on everybody. Plus I get a kick out of it," Sharib said with a smile.
Sharib will leave UConn without one of its most unique asset, as a power forward possessing tremendous skating ability highlighted by strength and durability. However Sharib will depart surrounded by a group as tight knit as family. "I think I'll remember the guys in my class the most, that fact that we were able to stay so close. We're like a family, we'll get on each but we're always to going to be there for one another at the end of the day."
Jacob Poe has played more games than any other graduating senior and borders on 50 career points. A stalwart on the UConn blueline over the past four seasons, Poe has developed from a hard hitting, big bodied defenseman into an all-around threat. Citing his offensive ability as the area of greatest growth, Poe has kept his edge. "He brings toughness, he's always into the game and he's a good leader on the ice, he's pretty reliable back there," Brad Smith said. "He's grown as a player since he has gotten here," Tyson said. "He's one of our most reliable defenseman night in and night out, he's really good on the penalty kill and he gets in a lot of lanes. It's been a pleasure to play with someone who is big and physical like he is."
Poe's defensive prowess doesn't go unnoticed by the goaltenders he helps protect. "He blocks a lot of shots. He's a big physical kid," Tom Comunale said. "He's very defensive minded and you just feel comfortable whenever he is out there." Poe believes his competitive nature has allowed him to be an effective player for the Huskies over the past four seasons and his game by game approach has been the key to his longevity. Poe will leave UConn as one of its most versatile defenseman, playing on both special teams units and once again leading defenseman in scoring, as he has done each season with the exception of his freshman campaign. Poe also believes this group is like a family, though in a way most people wouldn't expect. "We argue like brothers now, but at the same time we bicker and we're fine two minutes later," Poe said with a laugh.
Tom Comunale is one of the goaltenders that Poe has spent his time protecting. A backup goaltender through his career at Connecticut, Comunale has been the consummate teammate, continuing the work and progress in order to be prepared for his opportunity. That opportunity came on a Friday night in West Point when Comunale got the nod for his first career start, which ended in a 6-3 UConn victory. "It was awesome. I've worked hard for four years and got the chance to play and got the win, so that was nice," Comunale said.
The win resonated with Comunale's teammates as well, especially those who have watched him continue to work over four seasons. "It was pretty special, I think we all felt, the seniors especially, that we had seen what he'd done over four years and he deserved that," Poe said. "We were all pulling for him," Sharib said. "When we found out he was starting it was a huge boost to the team especially the senior class because we have been with him for all four years and we see how hard we works every single day and getting that win was amazing." It hasn't always been easy for Comunale to continue to work over four years, but his perseverance has allowed him to create a strong bond with his fellow seniors. "I think I'll remember my senior class. We've been through a lot and just having fun on and off the ice is probably what I'll remember. We're a bunch of goofballs, always giving each other a hard time and I'll text these guys in ten years and still give them a hard time."
Brad Smith has defined what it means to be versatile in his time at Connecticut. Smith has played every position for the Huskies with the exception of goaltender. Smith has accepted each of those roles with enthusiasm and a team-first mentality. "I just want to play games and help the team no matter what I have to do. If I have to go in at forward, if I have to go in at defense, the biggest thing for me is just getting wins. Wherever I can help, I'm willing to do it," Smith said.
Smith's ability to process that game and use his smarts have allowed him to take part on over 60 games in his time at Connecticut, as he has found a way to make an impact in whatever it is that he does. "He works hard, he has good vision and wherever they ask him to play he does a good job at it," Tom Comunale said. "He has good vision up front and he makes really good breakout passes when he is back there on D." Smith's approach to the game is simple. "I go into every game and just try to have fun, be with the boys out there and just play hockey and enjoy it. I try to compete every shift and play every game like it's my last."
Like the rest of his classmates, the enduring memory of his Husky career isn't a goal, a shift or a win, but the entirety of the experience and the people he's been surrounded by throughout. "I think I'll remember the friendships, the bonds, especially my class. All of us are tight, we've been through a lot and we've stuck together. I'll remember the lifelong friends I will have after this."
Connecticut will honor a group of six seniors Friday night who have been defined by their consistency, their work ethic and their attitude. These attributes will continue to endure within the fabric of the UConn hockey program long after they've graduated and will be a testament to the culture they have helped to cultivate over their four seasons with the Huskies.