When Ryan Tverberg arrived at UConn in December 2020 as an early enrollee, head coach Mike Cavanaugh admittedly wasn’t all that familiar with the team’s newest player.
“I didn’t know much about him. Joe [Pereira] had seen him play live,” he said on Thursday. “The only thing I saw was him — on video — play a couple games in the BCHL.”
It’s hard to blame the coach, either. Because of the pandemic, the NCAA put a freeze on all recruiting travel and Tverberg only committed to the Huskies on Nov. 17, 2020, so it’s not like there was much of an opportunity to go see him once he de-committed from Harvard.
Though the original plan was for Tverberg to come as a member of UConn’s 2021 recruiting class, the team decided to bring him in early to bolster its forward depth and allow him to get his feet wet at the college level. Though Tverberg was a seventh-round pick of the Toronto Maples Leafs in the 2020 NHL Draft, UConn tempered its expectations for him.
“We thought we needed more depth at forward last year and just with his skating alone, we thought that he’d fit in and be able to be a fourth line player if we needed it,” Cavanaugh said.
After a four goals and three assists in seven games in 2020-21, Tverberg has exploded for a team-high nine goals and 16 points this season. On Wednesday, Tverberg was rewarded for his breakout season as he was named one of 35 players invited to Canada’s National Junior Team Selection Camp, where he’ll compete for a spot on the World Juniors roster.
For Tverberg, the news came as somewhat of a surprise. Despite being a dual Canadian-American citizen, he learned earlier Tuesday that he wasn’t eligible to play for Team USA at the World Juniors. With how much hockey talent Canada produces, Tverberg felt an invite from them was probably a long shot.
“I was honestly ecstatic about it. Not too many people can come by that,” Tverberg said. “It was just kind of shocking because I earlier that day I found that the US wasn’t going to work because I didn’t play there growing up so I was ineligible for theirs. So I kind of didn’t know and then to go to Canada’s camp, it’s great because it’s a winning tradition — always a tradition of being the best.”
Tverberg is one of just three college players that will attend the camp. The other two are Owen Power, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, and Kent Johnson, the No. 5 overall pick — both of whom play for Michigan.
While the Huskies expected Tverberg would eventually become a productive player for them, few could’ve predicted his meteoric rise over the last 12 months — Tverberg included.
“Absolutely not,” he said when asked if he thought he had a chance to go to Canada’s World Juniors camp at this time last year. “But here we are.”
“I had no idea he was gonna be this dynamic offensively,” Cavanaugh said. “It says a lot of his development as a player here over the last year and we’re really excited and proud of him. I’m pushing. I really hope he makes the team.”
Tverberg’s numbers this season likely got him on Hockey Canada’s radar initially, but he wouldn’t have received the invite if not for his improved physical play and defense. Speed and skill are his calling cards, but Tverberg has connected on a few open-ice hits and has laid out to get in front of a few pucks as well this season.
“I think what makes him so attractive to Hockey Canada is that he’s skilled and fast enough to play on your top two lines if you need him, but he’s also tough enough and fast enough to play on your bottom two lines if you need him,” Cavanaugh said. “He’s proven that he can kill penalties. So he’s a very attractive player that is versatile, too.”
“The biggest change in his game is becoming not only just a one-trick pony offensively, he’s becoming a complete 200 foot player,” he added later.
UConn has a tradition — albeit a short one — of sending players to World Juniors. Last year, both Vladislav Firstov and Yan Kuznetsov played for Russia and in 2019, Jachym Kondelik was on Czech Republic squad. Adam Huska went in 2016 and 2017 with Slovakia while Tage Thompson won gold with Team USA in 2017.
If Tverberg makes Canada’s roster, he would miss the Huskies’ first game back from the winter break on Jan. 2 as the tournament runs from Dec. 26 through Jan. 5. Cavanaugh would be more than okay to be without Tverberg for that reason, though. It would also push the coach to do something he’s never done in his entire life.
“I told the Canadian people when they asked if he could leave, I said, ‘Yeah... I hope he makes the team because it might be the first year I ever root for Canada,’” Cavanaugh said.
Jonny Evans is set to return after missing the previous two games with an upper body injury. However, UConn is dealing with COVID problems for the first time this season. According to Cavanaugh, “a couple” players are in COVID protocol, though he did not say who they were.
“I don’t know if we’ll have them back for tomorrow,” he said.
How to watch
Date: Friday, Dec. 3 | Saturday, Dec. 4
Time: 7:00 p.m. (Friday) | 3:05 p.m. (Saturday)
Location: Lawler Rink, North Andover, MA (Friday) | XL Center, Hartford, CT (Saturday)
Streaming: SportsLive (Friday) | NESN+ (Saturday)