UConn men’s hockey kicks off the 2021-22 season on Saturday against Sacred Heart with high expectations. The Huskies are coming off a historic campaign in which they were ranked nationally for the first time and earned their highest finish (fourth) in Hockey East.
They return a significant chunk of last year’s time while adding three transfers and five freshmen. As a result, UConn has a loaded group of forwards, an experienced defensive corps, and new blood at the goaltender position. This is easily the most talented roster in program history.
To get ready for the new campaign, I made my best guesses at how this season will pan out for the Huskies.
Hockey East finish: Third place
After a fifth-place finish in 2020 and a fourth-place finish last year, UConn will continue its ascent by finishing third this season. While the Huskies have the talent to compete for the Hockey East regular-season title, it would take a really special season for that to happen. Third place is more realistic and also representative of the increased talent on this team compared to previous ones.
Top goalscorer: Jonny Evans
Coming off a 14 goal, 15 assist season in which he became UConn’s first Division I All-American, Evans will have another stellar campaign in which he leads the team in scoring, earns recognition as a Hobey Baker Award finalist, and wins Hockey East Player of the Year. While the Huskies have a lot of talented forwards, Evans is the most proven of the bunch and will show that his 2020-21 season was no fluke.
Assist leader: Jachym Kondelik
Kondelik has led the team in assists in two of the last three seasons and is just six away from passing Max Letunov as UConn’s Hockey East-era leader. Not only is the senior a stellar distributor, he’ll have the best collection of goal-scoring talent around him. The Huskies’ Division I single-season assist record is 27, set by Michael Goldkind in 1999-2000. Kondelik will have a chance to surpass that mark, especially if UConn makes a run in the postseason.
Highest national ranking: 10
UConn broke into the national polls for the first time in program history last season but didn’t rise higher than No. 20 — the last spot in the USCHO Poll. This year, the Huskies will be in the poll for most of the season but won’t climb any higher than No. 10 regardless of how well they play. As a non-traditional power, UConn will get less credit for big wins and will be dinged harder for losses than a school like BC or BU would. As a result, the Huskies’ ceiling in the polls will be capped.
Breakout player: Ryan Tverberg
As an early enrollee last season, Tverberg impressed from the moment he stepped into the lineup and never relinquished his spot. After getting adjusted to college hockey and having a full offseason to work on his game, Tverberg is primed to take off.
He’ll score a lot of goals by using his speed on breakaways but will also be dangerous when set up in the offensive zone. Tverberg faces a lot of competition to be UConn’s top scorer, but he’s definitely a darkhorse candidate.
Best defenseman: John Spetz
As a freshman, Spetz played in every situation for the Huskies and excelled on both offense and defense. His 11 points were the most of defenseman on the team and he led Hockey East with 51 blocks in the regular season — seven more than the next closest player. Spetz is the only true two-way defenseman on UConn’s roster and will be even better as a sophomore, garnering all-league honors.
Best newcomer: Kevin O’Neil
O’Neil isn’t UConn’s flashiest offseason addition but he’ll be the perfect complementary player for this roster. With how much attacking firepower the Huskies have, his production won’t jump off the page but he’ll be a steady, reliable option who makes to plays to win games. O’Neil will prove himself to be invaluable this season.
Goaltender with the most starts: Darion Hanson
UConn’s goaltender battle has been the main storyline this preseason and regardless of who starts against Sacred Heart, the competition will continue throughout the entire year. While Tomas Vomacka was locked into the starting job the last two years, the Huskies have two quality options in Union transfer Darion Hanson and freshman Logan Terness. We’ll predict that the two will split time but Hanson will get the majority thanks to his experience.
UConn wins its first Hockey East playoff game and makes its first NCAA Tournament
Last season, UConn was on the cusp of reaching its first NCAA Tournament but fell short after getting blown out by Providence in the Hockey East Playoffs. This year, the Huskies will finally get the monkey off their backs by winning their first postseason game under Cavanaugh, go on a run in the conference tournament and receive a bid to the NCAA Tournament.