Contribued by Alyssa Cantisani
At the start of each academic year, every athletic program at UConn welcomes in a new freshmen class who must adjust to life as student-athletes both on and off the fields of play. The five players in this year’s hockey rookie class had 21 games in the first half of the season to find their place, experience the rigors of Hockey East and learn how to make an impact for the Huskies.
When UConn returns to start the second semester on December 30th at Boston College, they'll need to have this group of rookies build on their early success and continue their development.
The strength of the UConn hockey program sits with the upperclassmen being great role models for each season’s new freshmen class, showing them that every day they need to compete, work hard, and be the best players they can be. Everyone has been able to make the newest Huskies feel comfortable which has made a huge impact on the way they are playing.
“All of us have contributed in a different way and that has to do with the upperclassmen really,” said freshman Evan Wisocky (Hoboken, N.J.) who has become a mainstay on the UConn power play and has picked-up four assists over the last five games. “They taught us how to play in this league (Hockey East) and it’s kind of how they’re leading us to now having some success after struggling in the beginning of the year. It’s a good feeling after the first half.”
All of the upperclassmen have made this whirlwind of an experience much simpler. Senior Johnny Austin (St. Louis Park, Minn.) has been an incredible mentor on and off the ice for one freshman in particular.
“I think my success has had a lot to do with being paired with Johnny Austin,” said rookie defenseman Adam Karashik (Ridgefield, Conn.), who has four points (2g/2a) and leads Hockey East with 43 blocked shots. “He’s been really vocal with me every shift we’ve had together and he makes it a lot easier on me while I’m playing out there with him.”
Playing a sport in college is a huge responsibility as it is, but playing in one of the top-leagues in the country brings a whole lot more pressure. The freshmen are learning more each week on how competitive these teams and athletes are, but they are fighting to win just as hard.
“I definitely knew it was one of the premier conferences in college hockey,” said Brian Rigali (Libertyville, Ill.), who recently scored his first collegiate goal to go along with three assists. “I mean, that’s the reason why I wanted to come here. I wanted to play the best teams, the best competition and so far, it has lived up to the hype. Every team is good, it’s really competitive every night for points and it’s pretty wide-open right now. That’s why every point matters.”
It seems that playing simple and sticking to each of their individual roles is what has been helping the Huskies find their success. If they can keep this up in the second half of the season, they should be able to face these Hockey East foes with ease.
“I think winning this Colgate game is definitely a good feeling going into break,” said frosh Zac Robbins (Glenview, Ill.), who has appeared in 20 games with two assists. “So I hope when we come back we will still have that push that we’ve had and hopefully it will get us moving forward in a positive way.”
Head Coach Mike Cavanaugh is also excited to get back on the ice and see what more the freshmen can bring to the table after a three-week break.
“I hope that the freshmen feel a lot more comfortable,” said Coach Cav. “At some point, you can’t be considered a freshman anymore, you’re a college hockey player. Those freshman mistakes or those jitters you have early on, they go away. You feel part of the team and you’re expected to contribute on a regular basis.”
The adjustment to college for any freshman is a difficult one. It involves starting over, making new friends and adapting to the much more difficult academic side of it all. For college athletes, they have to add a rigorous practice and game schedule to the mix. For a student-athlete from Europe, things can be exceptionally challenging.
“The adjustment was really big at first, it was scary,” said freshman Bradley Stone (London, England). “I moved when I was 16 to Lake Placid, New York, to a prep school and it was terrifying being away from home for the first time with my family so far away, but I adjusted and now it’s just like second nature.”
When you think of hockey, London isn’t one of the first places that come to mind but for Stone in particular, it was love at first sight and it didn’t matter where he came from, this was something he knew he had to pursue.
“It’s kind of random actually, when I was five or six I just went ice skating with my parents at my local rink and afterwards there was a hockey practice. I just started watching and I fell in love and that was it,” said Stone. “When it comes to deciding to be a goalie, I honestly just loved the equipment. When I was a little boy my parents didn’t want me to become a goalie but I was adamant about it. So, I learned how to skate and joined my local team and ended-up here at UConn.”
Despite being from New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Illinois and London, the freshmen on the squad all have one thing in commo- their passion for hockey. More specifically, UConn hockey. After winning five of their last six games, everyone is eager to get back on the ice and finish the rest of the season strong.