For all the ups and downs of UConn’s Hockey East tenure, the Huskies have had some remarkable consistency at goaltender. Rob Nichols anchored the team’s early years before soon giving way to Adam Huska. When he got hurt, Tanner Creel stepped in admirably and helped spark an incredible seven-game win streak in 2018. After Huska, UConn had Tomas Vomacka waiting in the wings to take over.
Now, after Vomacka’s first full season as the starter, the Huskies return all their goaltenders from last year — Vomacka, Bradley Stone, Ryan Keane and Matt Pasquale. As was the case this season, Vomacka will be the undisputed starter entering 2020-21. But behind him?
“It’s going to be wide open after (Vomacka),” head coach Mike Cavanaugh said. “I think it’s going to be great competition for who that backup goaltender is going to be and who knows, they could be continuing to push Tomas as well. There’s going to be a lot of competition.”
Tomas Vomacka - Junior
After taking over as the team’s starter at the end of his freshman year, Vomacka established himself as UConn’s top netminder as a sophomore. He started every game in which he was healthy (missing one due to illness) and finished the season with a save percentage of .898 and 3.13 goals against average in 33 games.
While those numbers regressed from Vomacka’s freshman campaign (.922/2.32/15 games), the blame doesn’t fall squarely on his shoulders. While consistency was a problem at times, four of the seven defensemen in front of him were freshmen — and five underclassmen total.
Vomacka never struggled to the point where there was any real consideration of benching him, but he did play below his standards for much of the first half. However, Cavanaugh was pleased to see the way he responded down the stretch.
“The thing you have to understand about Tomas is he’s one of the hardest-working kids on our team,” he said. “Sometimes goalies go through a little bit of a funk... If you look to the second half of the season, he was right around 92 percent (save percentage) and 2.4 goals against, somewhere along those lines. That’s the potential he has as a goaltender.”
Vomacka will be facing an important season as a junior, both individually and with the team. As a fifth-round draft pick of the Nashville Predators in 2018, his rights will expire if he doesn’t sign with the organization after next season, so Vomacka will be out to prove he deserves a professional contract.
Next year, UConn is looking at its best roster on paper in program history and should contenders for both the Hockey East and NCAA Tournament. The Huskies need Vomacka to play at the level he found in the second half for an entire season if they hope to achieve those goals.
Bradley Stone - Senior
After two and a half years of door duty, Stone finally got his first UConn start against St. Lawrence to kick off the second half with Vomacka sidelined by illness. He took advantage of the opportunity, saving 21 of 23 shots while only allowing one goal at even strength. Since the game was part of the Ledyard Classic, Stone also helped the Huskies win a shootout to advance to the championship game.
However, that was the final time that a goaltender other than Vomacka stepped on the ice.
It’s hard to glean much from that performance, for a number of reasons. First, St. Lawrence was one of the worst teams in the country, so it’s not as if Stone faced a steep challenge. Second, he was the only healthy goaltender for that game with Vomacka sick, Ryan Keane out with an arm injury and Matt Pasquale not yet on the team.
At this point, it seems unlikely that he could push Vomacka for the starting job but his experience should give him an edge in the race to be the Huskies’ top backup.
Ryan Keane - Sophomore
Keane’s only action of his freshman campaign came in mop-up duty at Providence in November — a game where UConn was forced to wave the white flag for by the end. The Huskies were so banged up they couldn’t even dress an extra skater and their numbers got even thinner after Vladislav Firstov was sent off for a game misconduct.
With UConn trailing 5-1, Keane came on for the final 9:23 and stopped all three shots that came his way. But the short ice time combined with the fact that stone missed the game with mono means there’s not much to take from the appearance.
Matt Pasquale - Sophomore
Pasquale came to UConn in January to add much-needed depth at goaltender after the Huskies played a few games without a backup goaltender due to various injuries and ailments. Despite the circumstances of his arrival, the coaching staff was high on Pasquale — he wasn’t just a warm body to throw in case of emergency. From the story on his commitment:
At 6-foot-2, Pasquale has good size for a goaltender but also brings a calming demeanor to the back end. He sees the play well and has good lateral movement to get from post-to-post.
Pasquale didn’t waste much time and quickly established himself as the team’s backup goaltender — indicated by the fact that he dressed every game down the stretch while Stone and Keane traded inactives.
After gaining experience in the program, Pasquale will enter next season as one of the Huskies’ biggest wildcards.