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UConn men’s hockey: Games on NESN, captains named, and more

What’s new with UConn hockey heading into this season.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

UConn men’s hockey is set to begin it’s sixth season of Hockey East play with its season opener at Sacred Heart on Saturday. The Huskies were in Boston for Hockey East’s media day before hosting their own on Friday.

Here’s what stood out from the two events:

Hockey East announces television deal with NESN

The biggest news to come out of Hockey East’s media day was a multi-year partnership between the conference and NESN that will put 100 men’s and women’s games on NESN and NESN+ over the 2019-20 season along with “extensive postseason coverage”. Seven of UConn men’s hockey’s games will be shown — with all but one on NESN:

Nov. 9 vs. Boston College, 3:30 pm
Dec. 12 vs. Vermont, 3:30 pm
Jan. 15 vs. Maine, 7 pm
Jan. 18 at Northeastern, 4 pm
Feb. 1 vs. New Hampshire, 4 pm
Feb. 15 at Maine, 7:30 pm
Feb. 22 at Boston University, 7 pm
Feb. 29 at UMass, 8 pm*
* - Game on NESN+

However, that may not be the final domino to fall in terms of broadcast rights. According to BC Interruption, the conference will announce a deal with College Sports Live to stream every Hockey East game that isn’t already picked up by NESN. UConn already uses College Sports Live as a way to air its olympic sports, such soccer, baseball and the hockey games not on TV.

College Sports Live charges $9.99 a month and is already used by a handful of schools in the conference, such as UConn and Merrimack. While it’s disappointing the deal isn’t with ESPN+, which is cheaper ($4.99 a month) and more accessible, it’s better than not having a deal at all.

UConn picked ninth in the conference

In the Preseason Coaches’ Poll, the Huskies were tabbed to finish ninth in the conference the season — the same place they finished a year ago. The top eight teams make the Hockey East playoffs. UConn’s highest finish came in 2017-18 when it came in fifth after being projected seventh in the preseason. Overall, the Huskies have finished an average of eighth in their first five years in Hockey East.

Considering UConn relied on a large freshman class last season and finished the year strong — capped by a 4-3 upset over No. 2 UMass — this ranking may be underestimating the Huskies. They are still probably a year away from legitimately competing at the top of the conference but considering the talent on the roster, should be better than they were last year.

At a minimum, UConn should reach the playoffs. But if the sophomores make the jump and the freshmen come along quicker than expected, the Huskies might have a shot at hosting in the playoffs with a top-four finish. Realistically, Mike Cavanaugh’s squad probably falls somewhere in the middle of that spectrum.

Evans and Iskhakov pairing to continue, for now

It’s easy to look at UConn’s strong finish last year and point to the change in goaltender as the catalyst. After the struggling Adam Huska was benched, the Huskies went 5-2 in games started by freshman Tomas Vomacka.

But that wasn’t the only difference. The game prior to Northeastern, Jonny Evans returned from a concussion that sidelined him since November. Paired with fellow freshman Ruslan Iskhakov up, the two wreaked havoc on opposes defenses.

And with the new season set to begin on Saturday, Cavanaugh isn’t messing with that chemistry — at least for now.

“Well, [Evans] and Ruslan were magic together down the stretch,” Cavanaugh said. “I think (they’ll play together) in the beginning, for sure. But so many things change throughout the course of the year. But it’d be foolish not not to play them together early on.”

As for the rest of the lines, Cavanaugh said they’re still working through those decisions in the final practices before Sacred Heart.

O captain my captains

When UConn takes the ice on Saturday, there’s going to be one extra letter on a jersey than usual. Instead of going with one captain and two alternate captains, the Huskies are rolling with two of each. Benjamin Freeman and Wyatt Newpower will be the captains with Alexander Payusov and Adam Karashik serving as alternates. It’s unconventional, but that was the players’ choice according to Cavanaugh.

“We let the players vote and and it was a dead heat, dead heat between both of them,” he said. “So why not?”

While the two captains are seniors on a team light on upperclassmen, Freeman and Newpower weren’t given the title based solely on their class.

“You know what I like about both of them? They both have had their struggles while they’ve been here. And they fought through some tough times,” Cavanaugh said. “Ben with some injuries, sometimes not playing very well and having to fight through those struggles. Wyatt at times was a healthy scratch here and never blamed anybody or got down on himself. He just worked hard and stayed in the summer.”