May 3, 2013
By Will Moran '14, WHUS Radio
UConn Hockey's Next Step
The most successful season in UConn hockey history came during the most trying year the program had ever faced. Fresh off the announcement that their program would join Hockey East in two years; the Huskies faced elevated expectations under a widening spotlight.
Since the 2008-2009 season, the Huskies had never retained the same coaching staff, until David Berard and Rich McKenna returned for the start of the 2012-13 campaign. With a full offseason to work with, Berard and McKenna set about bringing in their first incoming class.
“I spoke the majority of the time with Coach Berard,” freshman defenseman Chris Bond said. “He talked about the changing culture. They were trying to bring in kids who would mold into that culture. The family and winning aspects were what I was looking for; I loved the school right away.”
The Huskies were trending upwards, as evidenced by the recently departed Cole Schneider, who had signed at the end of the year with the NHL’s Ottawa Senators.
“They used Cole to show the direction of the program,” standout freshman Kyle Huson recalled. “They wanted impact guys who could build for the future. It was very attractive to be able to come in and play as a freshman.”
Schneider was one of ten Huskies who would not return to the team for the start of the 2012-13 season; their spots replaced by the 10- man freshman class. The Huskies were set to continue their improvement, but success would not come easily to start.
Things started differently for UConn, even before the team set foot on the ice. Each member arrived in early July, a month before they had normally arrived in years past, one of the changes imposed by the coaching staff. The extra time was beneficial to both freshman as well as veterans, including senior Captain Sean Ambrosie.
“We got to know everyone, get a feel for each other,” Ambrosie said. “We gelled earlier and I think that helped us out later on.”
The season got off to a rocky start, as the Huskies went winless through their first five games, the only bright spot a being a tie against No. 8 Union in their home opener. After a 3-0 defeat on November 2 at Niagara University, the Huskies had a team meeting with the coaching staff to figure out the direction the team was headed.
“I think the first meeting we had was because we weren’t being responsible off the ice individually. We weren’t doing what we had to do to win hockey games,” Ambrosie recalls.
The adversity facing the team would only increase after that point. After returning home from Niagara, Head Coach Bruce Marshall would announce that he was taking an indefinite medical leave of absence, with Berard to assume his responsibilities.
A re-evaluation of the team’s strengths took place about that same time.
“We sat in the locker room and evaluated who we were as a team,” sophomore forward Brad Smith said. “We had speed as a team and wanted to incorporate that into our game.”
With Berard in control behind the bench, the Huskies won four of their next five games, including a road game against future Hockey East opponent Merrimack, as well as the program’s first sweep over the defending conference champion Air Force Falcons.
“After the Niagara series, we could have just gone down, but we fought,” Ambrosie, who scored the game winning goal against Merrimack, said. “I think that was one of the nicest goals of my career. It was a great win, the best feeling of my career to that point. It was Coach Berard’s first win, so it was emotional; our class had been trying to do that for three years.”
The second half started strong again for Huskies, as they won their opening two games against Penn State before Bruce Marshall announced his resignation as head coach. Still, the Huskies didn’t blink and focusing on each game individually, even with an inter-state rivalry game against No. 4 ranked Quinnipiac in Hamden looming large.
Riding a national-best 16-game unbeaten streak, the Bobcats got all they could handle from the Huskies before emerging with a 2-1 win.
Beginning with a sweep of Bentley in mid-February, the Huskies went 6-1-1 to close out the regular season, finishing fourth in Atlantic Hockey and securing the program’s second opening round bye in the last three seasons.
“We locked in on it. To get the first round bye was a very rewarding feeling. It was something to be proud of,” Ambrosie said.
The Huskies locked up their quarterfinal series against Robert Morris in two games, sending them to Rochester for the second time in three years with a legitimate chance to win a conference championship.
“It’s the best feeling I’ve ever had,” Ambrosie said. The Huskies would meet Mercyhurst University in the semifinals, falling 4-1 and ending an incredible season. “There were a lot of hugs and handshakes, a lot of goodbyes,” Ambrosie said.