It was not long ago the UConn men's hockey team was in a state of disarray.
After defeating No. 8 Boston University Oct. 27, the Huskies went on a nightmare skid, losing eight games in a row. November came and went without a win. UConn has not had a skid like that since losing 12 in a row during the 2005-06 season.
That streak came to an end with an incredible sweep of No. 5 UMass Lowell the first weekend of December. The Huskies had not swept a Hockey East weekend series before, and the second win was the first ever victory under coach Mike Cavanaugh when trailing after two periods.
A tie against No. 19 Merrimack last Friday sent UConn into the winter break with a 5-10-1 record. On the surface, the record is far from dazzling, especially with the losing streak. But the Huskies seem to have things figured out, and there will be chances to make up points down the stretch.
Here is how the Hockey East standings look through the first half of the season.
|School||Conf. GP||W||L||T||P||Overall W||L||D|
UMass Lowell River Hawks
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Boston College Eagles
Boston University Terriers
New Hampshire Wildcats
Maine Black Bears
UConn has 11 games remaining in Hockey East, and while several teams have multiple games in hand, the Huskies look to have a good chance of competing for a home series in the first round of March's tournament.
Last season, the Huskies were in with a chance at hosting deep into the season. Late, challenging road games resulted in routs that kept UConn from competing for a top-eight spot.
Aiding UConn's chances is its top-heavy schedule. The Huskies have already played both games against UMass Lowell, Notre Dame, Boston University and UMass, while one game remains against each of Boston College, Merrimack and Vermont. UConn does have to play Providence twice and visit both Boston College and Merrimack, but the Huskies' schedule favors them at least competing to finish better than last season.
Corsi For Pct. (% Shots Attempted vs. Opponents' Shots): 48.1 percent | NCAA Rank: 41st; Hockey East Rank: 10th
UConn has attempted 882 shots compared to opponents' 950. So far, this season has shown a marked leveling of possession, as UConn ranked 55th with a 43.4 percent rating. Corsi takes all shots into account, including shots that miss the net or get blocked before they can get through. The Huskies still need to do a better job of actually getting pucks to the net. At times during the losing streak, that was an issue. UConn is being outshot 31.2-27.1 per game. The number does not change much when using the Fenwick rating, which only accounts for unblocked shots. UConn's Fenwick rating is 47.2 percent. Only 17 teams (including transitioning Arizona State) have a lower rating.
Power Play Pct.: 20.6 percent | NCAA Rank: 19th; Hockey East Rank: 5th
This may be one of the most important improvements this season for the Huskies. UConn was terrible last year—and in the several years prior—on the power play. The Huskies ranked 56th in the nation with a success rate of 10.5 percent. UConn's power play has helped it win a couple of crucial games, especially the two against UMass Lowell.
Leading the charge: freshman Tage Thompson. The Connecticut native has seven goals this season, all on the power play. When Thompson scores, UConn is 3-1-1.
The Huskies' Corsi numbers are up on the power play, which has proven significant. UConn finished in the middle of the pack with a Corsi For Percentage of 87.5 percent last year. Right now, UConn is 20th in the nation at 90.3 percent, allowing only 22 shots when the Huskies have the man advantage.
Shooting Percentage: 9.2 percent | NCAA Rank: 27th; Hockey East Rank: 7th
UConn was 56th in the nation in this category in 2014-15 (6.8 percent), so the improvement is good to see. The Huskies are not getting many chances. They rank 50th in the nation and last in Hockey East with 434 shots on goal. UConn's inability to finish its limited chances during the losing streak cost the Huskies' dearly. But in games they have been competitive in—especially the last three—they are capitalizing on their chances.
1) Maxim Letunov
Letunov's arrival was a pleasant shock for UConn fans. The highly-touted Russian was set to join Boston University this season, but paperwork fell through, and he became a Husky. Letunov has 18 points (six goals, 12 assists) through 16 games, putting him in a tie for eighth in Hockey East, third among freshmen.
2) Tage Thompson
Thompson is proving to be another excellent addition to the Huskies this season. The freshman has seven goals and five assists in 16 games. He has been a power-play maestro for UConn. All seven of his goals are on the power play, which has helped the Huskies improve markedly on special teams. Thompson has been playing on the same line as Letunov most of the season, and the addition of Shawn Pauly has made for a formidable trio.
3) Rob Nichols
UConn's defensive numbers are not great, which has reflected poorly on Nichols' statistics. That said, Nichols continues to be a successful shot stopper for the Huskies. Nichols' heroics against UMass Lowell and Merrimack helped UConn enter the break on a three-game unbeaten streak.
Most Valuable Player
Shawn Pauly: Pauly does not have overwhelming numbers (two goals and five assists in 11 games), but it is no coincidence UConn's fortunes changed when the senior alternate captain returned to the lineup. The Washington native missed five straight games—the last five of the losing streak—with an injury. Pauly is a career center, but upon his return to the lineup, he moved to left wing on the line with Letunov and Thompson. The move has worked out well. Pauly has done a lot of the dirty work and provided opportunities for the two freshmen. It has also allowed consistency on the other lines, which has produced UConn's best hockey.
UConn's Remaining Schedule
(Record, Pairwise Ranking)
* Denotes Hockey East game; Home games in bold
Fri., Jan. 1 (Mariucci Classic, Minneapolis, Minn.) – at Minnesota (7-8-0, T-20)
Sat., Jan. 2 (Mariucci Classic) – vs. Ferris State (8-8-4, 35th) OR Harvard (6-1-3, 6th)
Tue., Jan. 5 – at Arizona State (3-10-0, T-49th)
Fri., Jan. 8 (Desert Hockey Classic, Glendale, Ariz.) – vs. Michigan Tech (10-6-2, 23rd)
Sun., Jan. 10 (Desert Hockey Classic) – vs. Arizona State OR Yale (6-4-2, T-12th)
Fri., Jan. 15 – at Maine* (4-9-4, T-43rd)
Sat., Jan. 16 – at Maine*
Fri., Jan. 22 – vs. Vermont* (5-11-2, T-39th)
Sat., Jan. 23 – at Boston College* (13-2-1, 8th)
Tue., Jan. 26 – vs. Sacred Heart (5-10-2, 53rd)
Tue., Feb. 2 – vs. Brown (2-7-3, T-39th)
Sat., Feb. 6 – at Merrimack* (6-4-5, 22nd)
Fri., Feb. 12 – at Providence* (12-0-3, 2nd)
Sat., Feb. 13 – vs. Providence*
Fri, Feb. 19 – vs. Northeastern* (2-12-3, 51st)
Sat., Feb. 20 – at Northeastern*
Fri, Feb. 26 – vs. New Hampshire* (6-6-4, 27th)
Sat., Feb. 27 – at New Hampshire*