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UConn Men's Ice Hockey Announces NLI Signees

April 26, 2013

STORRS, Conn. – University of Connecticut men’s ice hockey interim head coach David Berard has announced the signing of eight student-athletes to National Letters of Intent to the join the team for the 2013-2014 season.  UConn has added eight players from six different states, plus individuals from Canada and Finland.

“There were three main areas that we wanted to address with this recruiting class,” stated Berard.  “First, we wanted to enhance our overall skill level and speed at every position.  Second, we wanted to add more toughness and physicality to our lineup.  Third, we wanted to bring in players who possess high character, leadership skills and a passion for winning.  We believe that we accomplished our goals with this recruiting class.  We are very excited to welcome these players to our program and look forward to the start of the 2013-2014 season.”

Name Position Ht./Wt. Hometown Last Team (League)
Austin Azurdia Forward 6'0/180 Wenatchee, Wash.  Langley Rivermen (BCHL)
Sean Gaffney Forward 6'2/188 Plymouth, Mich. Topeka Roadrunners (NAHL)
Joona Kunnas Defenseman  6'3/195 Vantaa, Finland Islanders Hockey Club (EJHL) 
Dan Mele Forward 5'10/190  Buffalo, N.Y. Springfield Pics (EJHL)
Christian Neumann  Defenseman 6'0/190 Naperville, Ill. Chicago Steel (USHL)
Robby Nichols Goaltender 5'10/177 Dallas, Texas Wenatchee Wild (NAHL)
Brent Norris Forward 5'9/185 Ottawa, Ont. Nepean Raiders (CCHL)
Brett Skibba Forward 5'11/185 Verona, Wis. Springfield Blues (NAHL)


The lone goaltender to be added to the roster is Robby Nichols from Dallas, Texas.  Standing at 5’10”, 177 lb., he spent the last two seasons playing for the Wenatchee Wilds of the NAHL.  Nichols started 78 games in the last two seasons and owned a .921 save percentage and 1.89 goals against average.  In the 2011-12 season, he earned both the NAHL Goaltender and Rookie of the Year awards.

Comment from Coach Berard:
“First and foremost, Robby is a proven winner.  The ability to win games is most important quality that we look for in a goalie. Due to his competitiveness and work ethic, he has had tremendous success at the midget and junior levels.  We look for him to bring that winning mentality and help our program take the next step.

On the blue line, the Huskies have added defensemen Joona Kunnas and Christian Neumann.

Kunnas, a 6’3”, 195 lb. defenseman from Vantaa, Finland, is coming off a season in the EJHL with the Islander Hockey Club, where he totaled 15 points on four goals and 11 assists in 32 games.  He previously played for the Coquitlam Express of the BCHL.  Kunnas played in the EJHL All-Star Game during the 2012-2013 season.

“Joona’s greatest strengths are his size, range and skating ability.  He is very dedicated to his development as a player and he has made great strides in his game over the past two years.  We look for him to continue that growth and become a solid two-way defenseman for us.”

Neumann, a 6’0”, 190 lb. defenseman from Naperville, Ill., skated for the Chicago Steel in the USHL for the past two seasons.  In 104 career games, he posted 18 points, including 16 assists.

“Christian is a big, strong, physical defenseman that competes hard and skates well.  He is a shutdown defenseman, who is very difficult to play against, whether it is off the rush or down low in the defensive zone.  His experience playing in the USHL will be extremely beneficial in his transition to college hockey.”

At forward, Connecticut has added Brett Skibba, Sean Gaffney, Brent Norris, Austin Azurdia and Dan Mele.

Skibba, a 5’11”, 185 lb. left wing from Verona, Wis., played two seasons with the Springfield Blues of the NAHL.  He finished last season second in the league in goals with 34 and participated in the Top Prospects’ Tournament.

“Brett is an explosive offensive player.  Although not big in stature, he uses his speed to attack in every situation.  He scores goals by taking pucks to the net and getting into high traffic areas.  His speed and tenacity make him a very difficult player to defend.”  

Gaffney, a true center at 6’2”, 188 lbs. from Plymouth, Mich., spent two years in the NAHL playing for the Topeka Roadrunners.  He scored 35 goals in two seasons and totaled 98 points.  Gaffney serves as Topeka’s captain for the 2012-2013 season and finished fifth in the NAHL in scoring at 66 points.

“Sean is a gifted two-way center.  He makes other players around him better with his hockey sense, vision and playmaking ability.  He competes hard defensively and understands the importance of playing without the puck.  His versatility as a player will be a huge asset for our program moving forward.”

Norris, at 5’9”, 185 lbs. from Ottawa, Ont., can play both center and wing.  He spent each of the last three seasons with the Nepean Raiders in the CCHL.  Norris tallied at least 30 points in all three seasons, including 75 on 41 goals and 34 assists in 2010-2011.  He was the Raiders captain last season and played for Canada East in the World Junior “A” Showcase in 2012.

“Brent is a skilled, offensive player.  He has a great stick, release and scoring knack, which has allowed him to develop into a consistent point producer at the junior level.  He possesses strong leadership skills and a tireless work ethic.  Although plagued by injury for much of this year, we expect him to add an offensive element to our line-up.” 

Azurdia, a 6’0”, 180 lb. right wing from Wenatchee, Wash., skated in 53 games with the Langley Rivermen of the BCHL this past season.  He recorded 35 points on 18 goals and 17 assists.

“Speed is the best word to describe Austin’s game.  He is a tremendous skater with a great stick, who has the ability to break a play open at any point in time.  He is tenacious and plays with a physical edge.  He has all the tools to develop into a power forward at the college level.”  

Mele, a 5’10”, 190 lb. right wing from Buffalo, N.Y., played the 2012-2013 season with the Springfield Pics of the EJHL.  Serving as a team captain, he totaled 52 points on 28 goals and 24 helpers in 47 games.

“Dan’s greatest attributes are leadership ability, compete level and work ethic.  A very good skater, he makes a difference in games by doing all the little things that lead to success.  He will make our team better and allow us to become a more difficult team to play against.”