UConn hockey skates into the 2015-2016 hockey season with a lot of promise. They had an unexpectedly good inaugural season in Hockey East where they picked up 10 wins and 7 ties overall and 7 wins and 4 draws in conference play and finished much higher than expected, sitting in ninth at the season’s close, ahead of Maine, Merrimack, and UMass. They went 5-3-3 at their new home, the XL Center and led the league in attendance averaging almost 5800 people per game, and picked up 4 wins and 2 ties against ranked teams, a program record. Now, with the transition to Hockey East complete this year with the XL Center their official home, the full amount of scholarships, and an established and growing fanbase, UConn comes into the new season with more promise and less doubt now with a season in Hockey East under their belt, I mean skates. With a promising freshman class including highly touted players like Tage Thompson, Max Letnuv, and Miles Gendron, and an offensive sophomore class it could be argued that this is the most talented team in the program’s history. With a strong senior class, consisting of Kyle Huson, Shawn Pauly, Joey Ferris, and Patrick Kirtland, to lead the way, this year’s team can achieve even greater feats than this past year. With a talented freshman class, a Hockey East season under their skates, and a big home arena that is one of toughest places in college hockey to play at as the opponent, and if more big crowds turn out to support the Huskies, this could definitely be another season to remember and one in which the Huskies jump to greater heights. With all this hope for the new season, let us take a look back at October in UConn hockey.
The Huskies opened the season with an exhibition game on October 3 against Queen’s University, at their old on-campus home, the Mark Edward Freitas Ice Forum. The Huskies came out of the gate sluggishly, not getting any good scoring chances despite out shooting Queen’s 9-6 in the first period, and the period ended in a scoreless draw. Rob Nichols was in net in the first and made all six saves. In the second period, sophomore goaltender Steve Thulin was put between the pipes. For the first half of the second, the Huskies still were not playing very well, nor very aggressively and still couldn’t generate many scoring opportunities as a result. Queen’s took advantage of this poor and sloppy play to get the first tally of the night. As a Husky 5-on-3 power-play expired, a Queen’s defenseman cleared the puck out of the Husky zone and it found the stick of Queen’s player Joseph Luongo as he was stepping out of the penalty box as his penalty for roughing expired. He came in on a breakaway and beat Thulin stick side, top shelf, to give Queen’s the 1-0 lead at the 9:43 mark of the second period. After this goal, however, the Huskies turned their play around and played great hockey for the rest of the afternoon. Not even four minutes after Queen’s scored the game’s first goal, the Huskies tied the game. David Drake blasted a shot from the right circle and Will Golonka put the rebound home at the right post to knot the game up, 1-1. The Huskies scored again just 47 seconds later, as Joey Ferris created a turnover in the offensive end, and dropped a pass back to Jeff Wight who fed Tage Thompson in front of the net. Thompson whipped a shot on goal and Queen’s netminder Kevin Bailie caught a piece of it, but the puck fell behind him and trickled over into the net to put the Huskies up, 2-1. The Huskies out-shot Queen’s in the second period, 20-5; Steve Thulin made four saves in the period. In the third period, sophomore goaltender Tanner Creel was in goal for the Huskies. The Huskies’ great offensive and defensive play continued through the third period, keeping Queen’s from finding the equalizer, and out-shooting Queen’s 13-5 in the frame. With time running out, Queen’s pulled their goalie for the extra attacker, but to no avail as Johnny Austin dumped the puck all the way from the Queen’s zone into the empty net with 45 seconds left to seal the Huskies’ 3-1 exhibition win. Tanner Creel finished with 5 saves in the period; the Huskies out-shot Queen’s 42-16 for the game, dominating the shot clock. Both teams failed to convert on the man-advantage, UConn going 0-for-7 and Queen’s 0-for-4. The Huskies’ 3-1 win was played in front of a pretty full barn, as 1158 were in attendance at Freitas, gauging the growth of UConn Hockey and its fanbase, as in the past much, much smaller crowds came to watch UConn’s exhibition games in the past. Also, in college hockey, very few people turn up to watch preseason games no matter the team, so a crowd of 1158 isn’t too shabby, especially considering it was a larger crowd than even Boston College and defending national champion Providence had at their preseason games.
The Huskies had their season opener six days later when they traveled to Alabama to play the Alabama Huntsville Chargers, beginning the season on the road for the eighth straight season. Rob Nichols was the starting goalie for the game. The Huskies got the season started in style as just 26 seconds into the game, captain Patrick Kirtland put the Huskies on the board. David Drake fired a hard pass from the right circle to Kirtland at the left circle and buried it by UAH netminder Carmine Guerriero to put UConn up 1-0. The Chargers didn’t let the Huskies enjoy any bigger of a lead as at the 7:16 mark, the Chargers tied it up with a Brennan Saulnier unassisted goal and took the lead late in the first at the 18:11 mark Max McHugh tipped the puck home to put the Chargers up 2-1 after one period. The Huskies held a 12-9 edge on the shot-clock in the first period. The Huskies came into the second period with a vengeance scoring just 2:25 into the period. Freshman Tage Thompson blasted a wrist shot on goal that was denied but Guerriero let a huge rebound loose off the shot and freshman Joseph Masonius blasted a slap-shot from the left circle that found the twine to knot the game at two. The action went back and forth throughout the rest of the period until the Huskies got another goal from a freshman to take the lead back. Max Letunov took a pass from Spencer Naas in the right circle and put the puck top shelf to put the Huskies up 3-2 heading into the locker room. The Huskies had a 12-6 edge in shots in the second. The third was all UConn, out-shooting the Chargers 11-0, and tacking on two more goals. The first came at 3:46 of the period, when Spencer Naas threw a shot at Guerriero that was saved but a rebound came loose for Max Letunov to poke home for his second score of the game and of his career. The Huskies went ahead 5-2 with seven seconds left when Max Letunov scored an empty-net goal to complete his hat trick in his first collegiate game, becoming the first player to do so since 2008. Spencer Naas and freshman Tage Thompson each recorded a pair of assists. Rob Nichols recorded 13 saves, a career-low in earning the season opening win, as UConn improved to 1-0 for the first time since 2007 when they beat AIC 4-2 to start the season. The Huskies out-shot the Chargers for the game 35-15; UConn went 0-for-2 on the man-advantage while Alabama-Huntsville went 0-for-1.
The Huskies finished their season-opening series with the Chargers the next day. Half-way through the first period the Huskies jumped out to a 1-0 lead for the second night in a row. Corey Ronan got loose on a breakaway but was pulled down by the stick of a Charger defenseman, resulting in being rewarded a penalty shot, the Huskies’ first since 2008, and only second in program history. Ronan would make a nice move to the backhand and score to put the Huskies on the board at 10:37. UAH was quick to respond capitalizing soon after at the 11:44 mark as the Chargers banged home a rebound loose in front to tie the game up, 1-1. The Huskies took the lead right back just three minutes later at the 14:39 mark. Max Letunov fed Tage Thompson up the right wing who dropped a pass to Miles Gendron who buried a quick wrist shot for his first career goal to put UConn ahead 2-1. The back and forth first period continued as the Chargers once more answered, this time just 25 seconds later. The first period ended with the score knotted, 2-2, and UAH leading the shot-clock 15-10. The Huskies would play much better in the seecond period, besting UAH on the shot-clock 12-5, but were whistled for three penalties which would prove costly. After killing off the two initial penalties of the period, UConn would allow the Chargers to score as Charger Max McHugh scored a power-play goal that he buried in the top-right shelf to put UAH up 3-2 heading into the third period. The Huskies and Chargers each had nine shots on net in the third period but the Huskies were unable to light the lamp in the period, and the Chargers tacked on two more goals, with Brennan Saulnier scoring at the 6:10 mark and the Chargers getting a shorthanded goal at the 11:00 mark from Hans Gorowsky, to deal the Huskies a 5-2 loss, and earn the series split. Steve Thulin made 24 saves in the loss his first career start in goal. The Huskies out-shot the Chargers for the second straight game, 31-29. UConn went 0-for-5 on the power-play while the Chargers went 1-for-7 in the game.
The Huskies’ next game was against fledgling Division I program, the Arizona State Sun Devils, in UConn’s home-opener as the Ice Bus returned home to the XL Center. The Huskies picked up where they left off last year at the XL Center, scoring just 1:42 into the game. With Derek Pratt sent to the box for roughing, Corey Ronan streaked up the left wing, throwing a shot on net, and Kasperi Ojantakanen collected the puck for the wrap-around tally to put UConn up 1-0 with the shorthanded goal, the first ever under head coach Mike Cavanaugh and the first one since 2013. The Huskies doubled their lead at the 16:45 mark, as Max Kalter scored his first collegiate goal, whipping a shot that found the back of the net as he fell. Just 53 seconds later, the Huskies scored again to make 3-0 when Spencer Naas tipped home a wicked wrist shot by Max Letunov for UConn’s first power-play goal of the season. Despite dominating the goal column, Arizona State actually out-shot the Huskies 12-10 in the first period. The Huskies continued to extend their lead, as Shawn Pauly got his first goal of the year, putting home a rebound of Evan Richardson through the pads to make it 4-0 to head into the third period; UConn out-shot the Sun Devils 19-5 in the second. At 6:16 of the third period, Arizona State stopped Rob Nichols’ shutout bid, as Sun Devil Ryan Belonger put home his own rebound in front. Not even three minutes later the Huskies got the goal back when Spencer Naas got his second power-play goal of the game, shoveling home a rebound off a Max Letunov wrister, to make it 5-1 Huskies, and that is the score it would stay. The Huskies out-shot Arizona State 12-8 in the third and 41-25 for the game, and Rob Nichols made 24 saves. The game was played in front of a small, fairly quiet crowd of 4404 in comparison to last year’s attendance, but was a result of the game being the same night of UConn Basketball’s First Night. UConn went 2-for-6 on the power-play while Arizona State went 0-for-4.
The Huskies took the ice the next weekend for their Hockey East Opener, on the road at the #7 Boston University Terriers. The Terriers carried play in the first period, out-shooting UConn 12-8, and had several good scoring chances, marked by Terrier Ahti Oskanen ringing the post twice on the power-play, but neither team found a way to score early on and both came up empty on their respective man-advantages in the period. That is, until the Terriers found the back of the net at 17:29 of the first period. Rob Nichols made a pair of nice saves but Terrier Ryan Cloonan chipped home a loose puck at the left post to put BU up 1-0 at the end of one period. The second period, however, belonged to UConn. The Huskies were on top on the shot-clock in the second period, 7-6, and got their first goal to tie the game up. After Tage Thompson fired a shot off the left post on a power-play, Max Letunov got his team-leading fourth goal. Kyle Huson found the puck and sent a pass to the streaking Letunov, who shoveled a back-hander over the shoulder of Terrier netminder Sean Maquire and in to knot the game up. The Terriers could not retake the lead, and both teams once again failed to score on their power-plays so the game went into the second intermission tied, 1-1. In the third however, it was all Boston University. They out-shot the Huskies 15-3, and scored on their first power-play that came at 4:52 of the third, just 58 seconds into the power-play. Danny O’Regan took a pass on the left wing and skated in and buried a wrist shot by Rob Nichols to make it 2-1 BU. BU struck again on the power-play during a five-minute major called on Spencer Naas. Ahti Oskanen shoveled the puck out of scrum to Terrier Fortunato who banged it home at the right post to make it 3-1 at 8:50. The Huskies couldn’t get anything going until they pulled Nichols with over a minute remaining. After a scrum in front of the net, the puck came loose and Max Letunov swooped in and put home the rebound with 23.6 seconds left to cut the deficit to 3-2. However, the Terriers put the game out of reach with an empty net goal off the ensuing face-off to hand the Huskies a 4-2 loss. For the game, BU out-shot UConn 33-18; Rob Nichols made 29 saves in net. The Huskies went 0-for-4 on the power-play while BU used the power-play to change the game in their favor by going 2-for-5.
The Huskies and Terriers resume their dogfight four days later as the home-and-home series comes to Hartford and the XL Center. The Huskies jump on the Terriers quickly and grab a 1-0 lead on the power-play, just 6:13 into the game. Joseph Masonius fed Johnny Austin who let a slap-shot fly and Tage Thompson cleaned up the loose rebound to put the Huskies in front. Play went back and forth for the remainder of the period and it looked like UConn would head to the locker room with a lead but BU scored to tie the game with 33 seconds remaining, also on a power-play. Terrier Charlie McAvoy fed a great pass to Danny O’Regan who buried it to knot the game up, 1-1. BU out-shot UConn in the first period 11-7. The second period saw the Huskies play even better, despite still being out-shot, 12-10, and pounce on the Terriers with a pair of nice goals. At 8:07 of the frame, Evan Richardson snapped a wrist-shot from the right circle that came in below the bar for another power-play goal and a 2-1 Husky lead. The Huskies added to their lead at 15:17 with a beautiful 2-on-0 breakout. Max Kalter made a nice move to get around the BU defense and sent a sweet pass to Joey Ferris in front who went top-shelf to make it 3-1 UConn heading into the third period. The Terriers came out flying in the third period, out-shooting the Huskies 15-7, but Rob Nichols kept making spectacular saves to keep the puck out of the net. Late in the third, the Huskies added some insurance to put Nichols at ease with a pair of goals just 45 seconds apart. At 16:01 of the third, Tage Thompson put home his second of the night by cleaning up a Spencer Naas rebound in front for a power-play goal. At 16:46, Tage Thompson completed his power-play hat trick with another power-play goal from a one-timer from a sweet pass from Max Letunov to make it 5-1 UConn. BU would sneak a wrist-shot by Rob Nichols with 52 seconds remaining but it didn’t matter as the Huskies picked up their first ever win over BU, their fourth win over a top-10 team, and their first Hockey East win of the year. BU out-shot UConn 38-24 and Rob Nichols had a season-high 36 saves; Tage Thompson recorded a hat trick for his first three career goals and Max Letunov recorded three assists. The Huskies went 4-for-7 on the power-play, and the Terriers went 1-for-5 with the extra man. A crowd of 5225 watched the game, in one of the most festive hockey games that had been played at the XL Center. Hats showered onto the ice after Thompson completed his hat trick, the Brass Bonanza blasted a record five times in the XL Center, red lights flashed and goal horns blared and the crowd didn’t stop cheering and giving UConn a standing ovation for the final four minutes. All and all, it was a raucous crowd that watched the Huskies dominate traditional powerhouse, Boston Univeristy.
The Huskies’ final game of the month was against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Halloween to start a weekend home series. It was the first meeting with the Irish at the XL Center as last year’s home game against them was played at the Webster Bank Arena, which was a secondary home last year for their transition to Hockey East. The first period was scoreless, with not many good scoring chances or much action, both teams failing to score on their lone power-play opportunities. Notre Dame led in shots in the first period, 11-6. The second period would not be so uneventful, as Notre Dame needed just 16 seconds to score. The Irish had a power-play to start the period, but the Huskies won the opening face-off and headed down the ice on an offensive rush, but the Irish regained the puck after a shot had been taken, and raced up on a breakout and Mario Lucia passed the puck to teammate Jordan Gross who beat Rob Nichols top-shelf for the 1-0 lead. The Huskies would tie it soon after, at 5:05, on a delayed penalty. Captain Patrick Kirtland threw a shot on goal that was padded away by Irish goalie Cal Peterson, and Shawn Pauly hacked at the rebound and Miles Gendron crashed the net and knocked the loose puck in to knot the game up, 1-1. The Huskies’ penalty kill then went to work killing off a five-minute major and a 5-on-3; the Huskies would also kill off a second 5-on-3 in the third. The score would stay unchanged heading into the third period; Notre Dame out-shot UConn, 8-6 in the second. The third was all Irish as they out-shot the Huskies 11-3, and got the go-ahead goal late in the third. Irish Steve Fogarty circled the net and sent a pass to Sam Herr at the right post who banged it home to make it 2-1. Patrick Kirtland and Joseph Masonius each had good chances with the extra-man, but the Huskies couldn’t find the equalizer and fell 2-1. The Huskies were out-shot in the game 30-15, with Rob Nichols making 28 saves. The Huskies went 0-for-5 on the man-advantage while Notre Dame went 1-for-5. 5160 fans attended the game.
The month of October, the first month of the 2015-2016 season, definitely gauged UConn’s growth and progress in only it’s second season in Hockey East. Their offense has improved since last season thanks to the likes of freshman like Tage Thompson and Max Letunov, who was named rookie of the month by Hockey East and national rookie of the month, who have both already recorded one hat trick apiece. After three home games at their second-year home the XL Center, they are already averaging 4940 fans per game, second in Hockey East. They are 3-3, and 1-2 in Hockey East play after October and six games, as compared to being 1-3-2, 0-2 in Hockey East to start last year. Even after just one month, the Huskies have exhibited better play and have shown to be a stronger team that has more depth.