While UConn men’s hockey opened its season last Saturday at Sacred Heart, most fans will get their first chance to see the Ice Bus in action on Friday night against Army at the XL Center.
The Huskies have their most talented roster in program history, although most major contributors are freshmen and sophomores. At the end of last season, UConn showed potential by winning five of its last eight games, including upsets over No. 13 Northeastern and No. 2 UMass.
There’s no shortage of intrigue with this team. The players that sparked the late resurgence are now a year older and there’s a new crop of talented freshmen ready to prove themselves in Hockey East.
With that being said, here are five players we’re most excited to see more of:
F Ruslan Iskhakov - Sophomore
There’s no player on the Huskies more exciting to watch than Ruslan Iskhakov. The Russian may not be big but he makes up for it with skill and style. Every time he touches the puck there’s potential for something special, whether it be a through-the-legs pass, deking the goalie on a breakaway or making defensemen look silly with his puck handling.
I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: Iskhakov has the potential to be the best player in program history. He’s a one-man highlight reel — a SportsCenter Top-10 play waiting to happen. Iskhakov alone can be worth the price of admission as one of the most exciting players in the country.
F Vladislav Firstov - Freshman
Vladislav FIrstov is another highly-touted Russian forward to come to Storrs. Despite being relatively young for a college hockey freshman at 18, Firstov should have an immediate impact with UConn. According to Wild.com, he already has a NHL-ready shot while his speed and skating are at an elite level as well.
Against Sacred Heart, Firstov was the left wing on the Huskies’ second line along with assist-machine Jachym Kondelik at center and veteran goal-scorer Alexander Payusov on the right. It’s always fun to see a shiny new recruit in action for the first time and with line-mates as dangerous as Kondelik and Payusov, Firstov will have plenty of chances to find the back of the net.
D Yan Kuznetsov - Freshman
Like seeing big hits on the ice? Yan Kuznetsov’s your guy. The 6-foot-4 defensemen described his style back in July:
“When I play physical I play good, when I don’t it’s so-so,” he said with a smirk across his face.
On defense, Kuznetsov should be a one-man wrecking crew for UConn. But his impact goes beyond that. Kuznetsov is a two-way defenseman, something Mike Cavanaugh’s teams have struggled to find or have enough of. The freshman started for the Huskies in his first collegiate game against Sacred Heart, which is impressive in its own right — but even moreso since Kuznetsov is one of the youngest freshmen in the country at 17 years old.
D Wyatt Newpower - Senior
While Kuznetsov may be the first legitimate two-way defenseman for UConn, it’s not as if it hasn’t gotten any production from its defense. Last season, Wyatt Newpower took a leap forward with three goals and 11 assists, good for 14 points on the season — more than his first two years combined.
The Huskies’ don’t need Newpower to put up huge numbers. But if he can take another step forward and record somewhere in the range of 20 points, that’ll help add a new dynamic to UConn’s offense.
G Tomas Vomacka - Sophomore
To this point, Tomas Vomacka’s career feels eerily similar to his predecessor’s, Adam Huska. Both players took over for an established goaltender midway through the year — Huska for Rob Nichols and Vomacka for Huska. Both finished their freshman campaign ranked in the top five for save percentage in program history with Huska at No. 3 and Vomacka at No. 2.
Now, this is where Vomacka will want to diverge from that path. Huska regressed over the final two seasons of his Husky career. In 2017-18, UConn’s record seven-game win streak came with backup Tanner Creel in net and Huska’s save percentage dropped. Last year, Huska struggled all season long and eventually got the hook in favor of Vomacka.
Vomacka is a quality shot-stopper, something he showed against Sacred Heart where he set a career-high with 45 saves. Last year, he wasn’t great at absorbing shots and often allowed rebounds off of him. And Vomacka also only became the starter in February. Now, he’ll need to prove he can sustain the same level over an entire season.
When the Huskies take the ice on Friday, they’ll be donning new home threads:
UConn already unveiled new alternate uniforms last week:
It’s not clear if the team will also get new away uniforms since they wore their old set in the season opener against Sacred Heart.