The college hockey season is a grind. Stretching from early October to March, teams play 34-game regular season schedules, often playing back-to-back on Friday and Saturday nights. For UConn, the end of the season the past few years has typically involved a rough slump.
“At some point, winter is going to ask, ‘what were you doing all summer?’” UConn head coach Mike Cavanaugh said.
When winter does ask that question, the Huskies believe they will be ready this time.
Sixteen of the team’s 26 players on the roster spent time in Storrs over the summer with Maureen Butler, the team’s strength and conditioning coach. It was the highest summer workout attendance Cavanaugh has had.
“I think they all should go home at some point, at least to get away from me. I think we all need a break from each other, but when they come back for that six weeks in July and August, I think they all get better,” Cavanaugh said.
Junior forward Maxim Letunov, who led the team in points his freshman year (16-24—40) but took a step back last season (7-20—27), is one of those players who stayed and got considerably stronger.
“He came back in excellent shape. He spent all summer here with Butler and it’s really showed,” Cavanaugh said. “He’s in the best shape he’s ever been in here at UConn.”
Aside from Letunov, Cavanaugh highlighted multiple other players who had good summers.
“[Goalie Adam Huska] went home for a little while but he came back and spent a lot of time and I think he’s in the best shape he’s ever been in,” Cavanaugh said.
Forward Justin Howell and defenseman Wyatt Newpower got stronger as well and look to build on their solid freshman campaigns as sophomores.
Above and beyond the summer work the team put in, Cavanaugh and his staff have been emphasizing skating during training camp.
“[Training camp] has been tougher,” senior captain Derek Pratt said. “We’ve been skating a lot with a real focus on our conditioning with the goal that it pays off in third periods.”
Playoff hockey is one of the most entertaining things in sports because an already high-octane sport somehow finds another gear. The Huskies, at least in Pratt’s estimation, did not in their series with Northeastern last season.
“If you take film from an NHL regular season game and you put it next to film from an NHL postseason game, you’d be able to tell the difference,” he said. “I think if you put film from our regular season games and put it next to film of that series against Northeastern, I’m not sure you’d be able to tell the difference.”
UConn kicks off the 2017-18 season on Friday against Maine in the first game of a weekend series. Puck drop is at 7:30 p.m.