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UConn Men’s Hockey Not Expecting a Rebuilding Year

The Huskies lost a lot of talent this past season but are bringing in one of the nation’s top recruiting classes.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

When UConn men’s hockey takes the ice next season, there’s going to be plenty of new faces. The Huskies graduated nine seniors while also losing defenseman Joe Masonius and forward Max Letunov from the program’s best season in the Hockey East era.

To fill the void, head coach Mike Cavanuagh signed a 12-player class rated as Neutral Zone’s No. 4 recruiting class in the nation, headlined by Russia native Ruslan Iskhakov.

“We’re excited about the class,” Cavanaugh said at the Travelers’ Championship Pro-Am on Wednesday. “He’s certainly a really good player and we’ve got a lot of other good forwards and defenseman to complement him as well.”

UConn has built a solid Russian connection the past few years, bringing in Letunov in addition to Sasha Payusov, whose parents come from Russia. While having a fellow countrymen on the team certainly doesn’t hurt, it’s not the sole reason Iskhakov is heading to Storrs.

“I think there was some familiarity there the fact that there were two Russians here and they had been playing very well for us, especially Sasha with the breakout year he had last year,” Cavanaugh said. “I think he saw the opportunity to come in and improve his game.”

Having spent 18 years as an assistant at Boston College and now in his sixth season at UConn, Cavanaugh knows the freshmen class will need some time to settle in and adjust to the Division I level.

“That first semester, there will be some growing pains when you have that many new guys on the team,” Cavanaugh said. “If the coaches do their job, I think we’ll definitely be a much better team in the second half than in the first half.”

The Huskies have improved every season since since they’ve joined Hockey East and made arguably the biggest leap last season after going on a seven-game win streak and finishing fifth in the standings. They earned a bye in the first round of the conference tournament but failed to pick up their first postseason Hockey East win.

For the team to take another jump this year, they’ll need the upperclassmen to step up and help acclimate the freshmen to UConn’s culture.

“Every year we’ve taken a step and improved and I think that was because we’ve had such a great core of seniors that from day one knew what our mission was and what the objectives were and they certainly played to that,” Cavanaugh said. “Now, we’re going to bring in a new crew but we have other guys that know what we stand for and what our identity is and they’ll be able to bring them a long pretty quickly.”

Cavanaugh didn’t come to Storrs simply to build the Huskies into a mid-tier Hockey East program. His ultimate goal is to be one of the top teams in the nation year in and year out.

“The next level is to get to the Garden and win the Hockey East Championship,” he said. “Our ultimate goal is to be playing for the national championship and you have to make the tournament first in order to be playing for it.”