One of the biggest cons of a large senior class is that the following year, the freshman class is the same size, if not more immense. UConn men’s hockey is certainly feeling that this season, as 12 out of 26 players on the roster are in their first year with the team.
“They’re essential, because there are 12 of them,” head coach Mike Cavanaugh said. “That’s essentially half our team. With that there are growing pains and we’re experiencing those right now. If we keep getting better and stay with the process, I think we’re going to be ok.”
The growing pains have been real early, as after a solid 4-2-1 start the Huskies have now lost seven of eight games, following a road defeat to No. 3 UMass on Friday.
Nine of the 19 dressed skaters for Mike Cavanaugh on Friday were freshmen. Despite junior Alexander Payusov heading into the UMass game fourth nationally with nine goals, the freshmen are going to have to produce. So far, that’s what they’ve done.
Kale Howarth is a great example. Despite putting 39 shots on net in his first 14 collegiate games, he had only a pair of assists.
“He’s been playing great all year long. I think in Belfast last week he had 14 shots on net and he hasn’t had anything to show for it,” Cavanaugh said.
Against the Minutemen, he scored two goals. In the first period, he tipped home a hard pass from Benjamin Freeman to notch his first collegiate goal and followed it up with a nice move for a second tally off of a nice feed from fellow freshman Ruslan Iskhakov.
“[Howarth and Iskhakov] come in in the morning and they work on stuff,” Karl El-Mir said. “It wasn’t going in for Kale, he had a lot of chances and a lot of shots but it wasn’t going in for him and if you keep doing the right thing, it’s going to go in for you.”
A very highly-touted forward, Iskhakov is easy to spot when he is on the ice, handling the puck as well as anyone in Hockey East and he showed up with a highlight-reel tally against Army in the season opener, adding an assist as well.
Rookie Ruslan Iskhakov slams on the brakes and puts the biscuit in the basket for his first collegiate goal #IceBus rolls to their first win at Army!@Buccigross @SportsCenter #SCTop10 #CawlidgeHawkey pic.twitter.com/0EGufYqjEp— UConn Men's Hockey (@UConnMHOC) October 13, 2018
Iskhakov disappeared off the scoresheet afterwards, with just three points in his next 11 games (partially due to missing games to injury), but he came back with a trio of assists on Friday night.
“He’s been doing the right things, making the simple plays and it’s been paying off for him,” El-Mir said.
The last of the freshmen forwards that see time on the top two lines is Jachym Kondelik. At the start of the season, he was an effective playmaker, with nine assists through the Huskies’ first seven games. He had three multi-point games and the Huskies were 4-2-1.
However, he slowed with the production, with three helpers over his next eight contests. His team slipped to 1-7-0. Kondelik’s slap pass to El-Mir 34 seconds into the third period on Friday beat Matt Murray and tied the game at 3-3.
When one group of players constitutes 46 percent of a roster, it’s important for them to perform. They aren’t the end-all-be-all, especially when they’re first-year players, but if they go back to producing as they did at the beginning of the year and continue to develop, then the Huskies should be able to get back to the success they had to start the season.