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Mike Cavanaugh breaks down UConn men’s hockey’s incoming freshman class

The Huskies are bringing more elite talent to Storrs this fall.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

UConn men’s hockey’s incoming freshman class is official. The Huskies will add six players to the program — five forwards and one defenseman. The class also features a mix of local players, a couple Canadians, another Russian and, of course, the token prep school player.

Now that the players have all signed, head coach Mike Cavanaugh is finally allowed to publicly comment on the class. He spoke to The UConn Blog by phone earlier this week to break it down:

No. 9 Cassidy Bowes — Forward — Sturgeon County, Alberta

Originally committed to Michigan, Bowes was “derailed by injuries the past two years,” as Cavanaugh put it and eventually re-opened his recruiting process. UConn pursued him the first go-around so when he became available again, the Huskies renewed their interest.

“When he reopened his recruitment, we got back involved,” Cavanaugh said. “That’s why I think it’s important — even when you don’t get a kid — to make sure you do things the right way. Especially in our sport, if it doesn’t work out — that happens a lot — you can get back involved with that kid because he had a positive experience with you the last time around.”

Cavanaugh called Bowes a “a big, strong hockey player,” — a theme for this class. He’s also one of the older freshmen at 21 years old.

No. 21 Nick Capone — Forward — East Haven, Connecticut

The crown jewel of UConn’s class — and arguably one of the biggest commitments the Huskies have ever gotten — Capone is the first elite, homegrown Connecticut player to come to UConn. He’s considered one of the top prospects in New England and is expected to be selected in the upcoming NHL Draft. Cavanaugh is hopeful that Capone will help attract other elite local players to Storrs.

“I know Nick is a pretty high profile kid in the state of Connecticut and I think a lot of other players will look at ‘Hey if it’s good enough for Nick Capone it’s good enough for me,’” Cavanaugh said back in November.

Capone previously committed to Maine before he flipped to UConn. Listed at 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, Cavanaugh described him as a “throwback power forward.”

“He’s a really physical player that can shoot the puck well and also make plays,” the coach said. “But he’s your old-school, Cam Neely-type power forward.”

No. 12 Gavin Puskar — Forward — Farmington, Connecticut

Puskar is the latest player to join the Huskies straight out of prep school, following in the footsteps of Marc Gatcomb and Jake Flynn. Though Cavanaugh said some players benefit from playing junior hockey, it isn’t necessary for everyone.

“You saw Jake Flynn this year. He came in and midway through the year, he was playing great,” he said. “He was in our top four on defense so he was able to adjust pretty quickly.”

On top of that, the coach also said that kids straight out of prep school have an easier time adjusting to the academic part of college compared to players who have been out of school for a couple years to play junior.

At 6-foot-2, 185 pounds, Puskar is brings size but may need to add strength to make the jump to the college level from the Hotchkiss School in Salisbury, Connecticut.

“He’s a big kid that can skate and I think he has the potential to be a power forward at the college level. Those guys are always valuable,” Cavanaugh said. “When you have a big, heavy team, you’re hard to play against. You don’t always have to be big to be heavy. He has potential. I think he had close to 20 goals (he scored 18) this year at Hotchkiss. He’s a kid who can find the back of the net. I think he’s another guy who has a lot of potential to be a pretty good player for us.”

No. 22 Hudson Schandor — Forward — North Vancouver, British Columbia

From one of the bigger players in the class to the smallest, Schandor is listed at just 5-foot-9. He joins the burgeoning pipeline from British Columbia to Storrs, following the likes of Carter Berger, Jonny Evans, and Carter Turnbull. In fact, Berger and Schandor are almost neighbors as the two live just a couple of minutes away from each other, according to Schandor.

Cavanaugh said British Columbia is one of the program’s top regions to recruit in and the more players they get from the Pacific Northwest, the easier it’ll be to land others.

“It’s an area that we focus on,” Cavanaugh said. “When you start getting a few players — it’s like how we have a couple Russians, now Russian kids know of our kids at UConn so they immediately feel comfortable coming. You get a lot of British Columbia kids, word travels out there. It’s all relationships and we’ve been fortunate to get some good ones.”

On the ice, Schandor fits the mold that the coaching staff wants: A skilled player that also competes. He spent the last three years in the BCHL and last season with the Surrey Eagles, Schandor recorded 25 goals and 36 assists in 56 games.

No. 32 Artem Shlaine — Forward — Moscow, Russia

The final addition to UConn’s freshman class, Shlaine (pronounced Shline) committed to Boston University before he flipped to the Huskies after the Terriers asked him to play a year of junior hockey.

Instead, Shlaine wanted to get to college right away. When Shlaine made his first decision, he chose BU over UConn. So after he re-opened his recruiting process, Shlaine said it was a “no-brainer” to pick the Huskies.

A native of Moscow, Russia, Shlaine came to the US three years ago and attended the powerhouse hockey prep school Shattuck St. Mary’s in Minnesota — where NHL stars such as Sidney Crosby, Nate Mackinnon and Jonathan Toews have played. When asked what Shlaine will bring to the team, Cavanaugh cited his high, all-around skillset.

“He’s got great vision, tremendous skill,” Cavanaugh said. “He’s a very smart and cerebral player. Like I said, an excellent stick. He’s one of those guys where the puck always finds him. He’s always around the puck.”

No. 18 John Spetz — Defenseman — Oak Ridge, NJ

The sole defenseman in the class, Spetz should make an immediate impact at UConn. He’s one of the elder statesmen of the freshmen at 21 years old and when he committed in June 2019, a source indicated that Spetz would’ve been ready to play at the college level last season but needed to work out a few things off the ice. Cavanaugh echoed that sentiment and believes the learning curve will be flatter for him than most freshman.

“He’s going to be an older kid with a lot of experience. He’s got the body physically to jump right in,” Cavanaugh said. “He’s not a young 17, 18 year old kid who’s still maturing. He’s a big, physical specimen, 21 year old defenseman. He’s really, really smart. He’s good with the puck, we’re expecting big things from him for sure.”