Just four of the players that finished the season with UConn Men’s Hockey last year will not be returning to the fold in 2017-18. Three of them are seniors and the last is Tage Thompson, a first-round pick in the NHL Draft who is currently competing to make the St. Louis Blues. As a result, the Huskies return a very experienced group, including nine seniors.
“They know exactly how we want to play and we have been able to get right into some systems play without having to teach it,” head coach Mike Cavanaugh said. “Practices have seemed to go really smooth.”
With the experience comes knowledge of the system that the Huskies are going to run, allowing them to get more reps in on the ice in the limited time they have before the season.
“If I say, ‘hey listen, we’re going to do neutral zone play today’ or ‘we’re going to do forecheck’, we can get right into it. I don’t have to spend a lot of time teaching it on the ice,” Cavanaugh said.
The seniors have been through it all and even though only two will wear letters—captain Derek Pratt and alternate Spencer Naas—many of them are contributing as leaders.
“I think there are probably seven guys that could wear [a letter],” Cavanaugh said. “We have a tremendous amount of guys who are coming back that have experience and that are born and bred leaders.
“As a coach, it is a comforting feeling to have that.”
Pratt feels the same way about his classmates.
“Knowing that nine of us has been through it, we’ve all had our ups and downs, it’s really comforting because maybe it doesn’t all lie on my shoulders,” he said. “There’s an awesome group doing their part as well.”
This class was the first to play their whole four years in Hockey East and has been at the forefront of the program’s ascent since the Huskies’ tenure in the nation’s premier conference began in 2014-15.
“I think we’ve come a long way as individuals and certainly as a program. We’ve taken steps every single year,” Naas said. “This year we look to continue that trend and really become a team that’s competing for a Hockey East title.”
The sentiment among the seniors is that this is the year that the Huskies really make some noise in Hockey East.
“We’ve built a strong foundation the last three years,” forward Jeff Wight said. “I think it’s time to take another big step forward.”