So far this season, the injury bug has bitten UConn men’s hockey hard. The Huskies have lost players for varying amounts of time to a plethora of different ailments ranging from typical bumps and bruises to a blood clot that knocked sophomore defenseman Roman Kinal out for the season.
Last weekend, the forwards were hit hard with Jonny Evans, Ruslan Iskhakov and Kale Howarth all out for various reasons. With a lot of production and talent missing from the lineup against No. 12 Providence, UConn needed someone to fill the void.
Turnbull answered the bell.
On Friday night, Turnbull fired a lightning-quick shot out of a face-off to score his first goal in the first period. Later he flew coast-to-coast with the puck and deked out the goaltender for his second score. The next game, Turnbull added an assist to round out a three-point weekend.
Though he’s played in just a third of the games, Turnbull has nearly matched his production from last season. He’s up to six points (tied for the second-most on the team) after collecting just seven points total as a freshman. On top of that, he leads UConn in +/- (players get a plus when on the ice for an even strength/short-handed goal and get a minus if they’re on the ice for one of those goals) after finishing second-to-last in that category year ago.
“When he’s been healthy, he’s been good,” Cavanaugh said. “He’s been really good. I think he’s made a big jump from last year. We’re certainly happy with his play.”
Turnbull was part of the 2018 recruiting class rated as the second-best in the country by Neutral Zone, though he was far from the headliner. It featured four NHL draft picks, all elite players that came in with elite skill sets. Turnbull didn’t come with that type of pedigree nor did he feature any elite skills. Instead, he came to Storrs with an all-around game that has proven valuable for the Huskies.
“He’s really competitive, he can skate, he can get pucks to the net, he’s got a really quick release,” Cavanaugh said. “When he’s playing well, he’s strong on his skates. He can be an offensive force.”
The biggest key for the sophomore is staying healthy. He struggled with an ankle injury last season and missed both games against Boston College earlier this year. But when he’s on the ice, Turnbull has established himself as one of UConn’s top forwards.
“He’s playing a regular shift for us, no question,” he said. “If we shorten the bench, he’s one of the nine forwards we have going.”
Last weekend, UConn’s depth was pushed to the max. On Saturday against Providence, different injuries and ailments forced the Huskies to play without an extra skater. The situation became even more dire when Vladislav Firstov was sent off at the end of the first period with a game misconduct, which left the team with just 11 forwards instead of the typical 12.
Luckily, relief appears to be on its way. Jake Flynn, who missed the previous two weeks with a concussion (we incorrectly stated he had a shoulder injury) practiced on Tuesday and will play Friday night. Same goes for Ruslan Iskhakov, who missed both games against Providence with a sinus infection. Kale Howarth remains out with an abdominal injury along with Jonny Evans (broken finger) and Bradley Stone (mono).
While Cavanaugh isn’t ignoring the two weekend series ahead, he’s looking forward to getting to the mid-season break to get the team back to 100 percent.
“It might not be until Christmas that we’re fully healthy,” he said. “I’d like to get to the break and play well these last four games and then go into the break and try to get healthy before we go back up to Dartmouth.”
Fun with Numbers
- UConn is 0-2-0 all-time against Miami. Two years ago, the Huskies traveled out to Ohio and got smoked by the RedHawks, 3-0 in the first game and 7-1 in the second.
- Overall, UConn hasn’t fared well against team’s from Miami’s conference, the NCHC, holding just a 1-4-0 record. However, the Huskies’ sole win was an important one. Cavanaugh’s squad took down No. 18 St. Cloud State in the Desert Hockey Classic during the 2016-17 season. UConn went on the win the tournament, the only trophy it has won so far in the Cavanaugh Era.
- Miami is just one of two opponents the Huskies will face this season from outside the northeast, along with St. Lawrence.