2015-16 Season Outlook
The UConn men's hockey team is ready to jump into its second season in Hockey East and it's time for Husky fans to get #AllAboard the #IceBus. Over 75,000 fans enjoyed a "Hockey Night in Hartford" last season as the Huskies burst onto the Hockey East scene in 2014-15, leading the conference in home attendance in their first season of play in the historic league.
The Huskies, who entered last season tabbed to finish last in the preseason coaches' poll, fought their way to a 7-11-4 Hockey East mark, tying with Maine for ninth in the final standings. Along the way the Huskies knocked off four teams ranked in the national polls highlighted by a 1-0 win over No. 3 ranked Boston College in the program's first-ever Hockey East home game.
Head Coach Mike Cavanaugh, beginning his third season on the UConn bench, welcomes back 18 players from last year's club and will have eight new Huskies donning the blue and white jersey this season. Senior Patrick Kirtland will captain the 2015-16 Huskies with classmate Shawn Pauly and sophomore Derek Pratt donning the "A" as alternate captains.
UConn enters the season looking for a boost in scoring after averaging 1.83 goals per game last year. The Huskies return five of their top-six scorers from last season led by senior Shawn Pauly who led the team with 20 points (5 goals/15 assists). Pauly has scored 20 or more points in each of his three seasons at UConn and enters his final year with 62 career points and 21 career goals scored. He led the Huskies with 15 assists last season.
The Huskies have a wealth of youth offensively with 11 sophomores and five incoming freshmen on the roster. Sophomore Spencer Naas leads the youth movement after a stellar rookie season where he led all UConn freshmen with 17 points on 13 goals and four assists. He was the team leader in goals scored and finished second on the team in scoring. Naas ranked sixth in Hockey East in freshmen goal scoring and was 11th among the nation's rookies. His 14 goals rank second in the UConn Division I record book for rookie goal scoring.
Classmates Kasperi Ojantakanen and Corey Ronan return off double digit point rookie seasons. Ojantakanen finished with 12 points, was second on the team with 10 assists and shared the team lead with five points coming on the power play (1g/4a). Ronan posted 10 points, scoring three goals.
A pair of seniors in captain Patrick Kirtland and Joey Ferriss add experience and a strong defensive presence to UConn's offensive line-up. Kirtland had four goals and four assists last season and for the second-straight year, led all UConn forwards with 54 blocked shots. He averaged 1.50 blocked shots per game, ranking first among Hockey East forwards and third in the nation. Ferriss finished the season with a pair of goals and six assists. Junior Evan Richardson scored five goals with five assists in his first season with the Huskies in 2014-15. Richardson finished with a team-best three power play goals on the year.
The incoming freshmen class features five players who will compete for a spot among UConn's starting forwards. Freshman Maxim Letunov from Moscow, Russia, was a second round pick (52nd overall) by the St. Louis Blues in the 2014 NHL Draft and saw his rights traded to the Arizona Coyotes this past March for established NHL defenseman Zbynek Michalek and a 2015 third round draft pick. He had 107 points over two seasons with the Youngstown Phantoms in the USHL. Tage Thompson comes to Storrs after spending last season with the U.S. National U18 team in the USA Hockey National Team Development Program (NTDP). He was selected to play in the fourth annual CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game in Buffalo.
Fellow freshmen Max Kalter (Sioux City Musketeers/USHL), Karl El-Mir (Grande Prairie Storm/AJHL) and Marco Richter (Madison Capitols/USHL) will also debut this season and expected to help add depth and scoring to the Husky line-up.
Six defensemen return to the UConn line-up in 2015-16 led by veterans, senior Kyle Huson and junior Ryan Segalla. Segalla, a 2013 NHL Draft pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins, had two goals and three assists while blocking 35 shots last season. Fellow junior Joona Kunnas also returns and saw some time on offense as well last year. Kunnas finished last season with six points on two goals and four assists.
Sophomores Derek Pratt, an alternate captain this season, Johnny Austin and David Drake return to bolster the defensive unit after strong rookie seasons. Pratt led all UConn players with 67 blocked shots, an average of 1.91 per game to rank 10th in Hockey East and tied for 41st in the nation. He ranked fourth in Hockey East and sixth nationally in blocked shots by a freshman. Austin was second in scoring among UConn defensemen last year, scoring two goals with six assists, four coming on the power play. He and Pratt were the only Huskies with an even plus/minus rating last season. Drake, a 2013 NHL Draft pick of the Philadelphia Flyers, finished last season with a goal and four assists while blocking 39 shots.
Freshmen Miles Gendron (Penticton Vees/BCHL), a third round pick (70th overall) by the Ottawa Senators in the 2014 NHL Draft, and Joseph Masonius, a member of the U.S. National Team Development Program the last two seasons, will join the Huskies for this season and round out the defensive core in front of veteran goaltender Rob Nichols.
Junior netminder Rob Nichols is back in goal after a breakout sophomore campaign. Nichols posted a 2.73 goals against average with a .918 save percentage and racked up 1,052 saves, ranking first in Hockey East and fourth in the country. Nichols became just the second goaltender in UConn history to record over a 1,000 saves in a season and was just one of seven netminders in the country to hit the number last season.
He posted four shutouts, tied for tops in the league and 11th in the nation. His four shutouts all came at home in the XL Center, beating No. 3 ranked Boston College (1-0), No. 5 ranked UMass Lowell (2-0), Merrimack (1-0) and UMass (4-0). Nichols had four games last year where he posted 40 or more saves (42 at UNH, 41 at Merrimack, 41 at Notre Dame, 41 at Maine).
Sophomores Steve Thulin and Tanner Creel will compete for the back-up role behind Nichols. Thulin used his red-shirt season last year while Creel transfers to UConn. He appeared in five games for Army in 2013-14.
The season gets underway with a two-game series at Alabama Huntsville on October 9th and 10th before kicking off "Hockey Night in Hartford" against Arizona State in the Huskies home opener October 16th. This season's 15-game home slate at the XL Center will feature 10 Hockey East games against the likes of defending National Champion Providence as well as Boston College, Boston University, UMass, UMass Lowell, Merrimack, New Hampshire, Northeastern, Notre Dame and Vermont. UConn will also play five non-conference games at the downtown Hartford arena with match-ups against ASU, Army, Brown, Quinnipiac and Sacred Heart on the docket.
The Huskies will play in a pair of mid-season tournaments, ringing in New Year's with an appearance in the 25th Annual Mariucci Classic in Minneapolis followed by a trip to Arizona for the Desert Hockey Classic. This year's Mariucci Classic opens with Ferris State and Harvard followed by the Huskies and Minnesota facing-off in the first-ever meeting between the two schools on the ice.
When UConn heads to Arizona, they will open the week against Arizona State in Tempe, marking the first NCAA home game in Sun Devil history and the first NCAA hockey game played in the state of Arizona since Northern Arizona University stopped sponsoring hockey in 1985. The Huskies will be joined by fellow Nutmeg state opponent Yale, ASU and Michigan Tech in the first-ever Desert Hockey Classic.