Despite a rocky start to the regular season that saw UConn men’s hockey play just two series in the opening four weeks and have to pause all team activities in January after a false positive COVID-19 test, the Huskies (and Hockey East) have made it to the postseason.
But before we turn our full attention to UConn’s quarterfinal matchup against Providence on Sunday, we decided to look back and hand out some awards from the regular season.
MVP: Vladislav Firstov and Tomas Vomacka
The difference between UConn with and without Vladislav Firstov has been dramatic this season, which we laid out here.
But UConn certainly wouldn’t be in its current position without goaltender Tomas Vomacka, either. He’s played every minute in net this season and has faced 682 shots — fourth-most in the nation. Despite that, Vomacka has turned away 91.2 percent of those shots while maintaining a 2.70 goals-against average. He’s also been extremely consistent with very few soft goals allowed through the campaign.
Most Outstanding Player: Jonny Evans
A candidate for the Hobey Baker Award, Hockey East’s leading scorer, and an all-conference first team selection, Jonny Evans’ has been UConn’s best player wire-to-wire this season. He leads the team with 14 goals and 28 points while contributing consistently with at least one point in 17 of 22 games. While Firstov has transformed the Huskies’ offense when he’s on the ice, Evans has been the main engine behind it all season long.
Best freshman: Hudson Schandor
The toughest of all the selections, we’ll give newcomer Hudson Schandor the nod. He’s third on the team with 14 points (behind only Evans and Jachym Kondelik) and plays on both the power play and penalty kill. Among freshmen, Schandor ranks fourth in Hockey East in scoring, fourth in face-off percentage, and sixth in blocked shots.
Honorable Mention: John Spetz — Spetz was a Hockey East All-Rookie Team snub considering he leads Hockey East in blocked shots, is UConn’s top-scoring defensemen with 11 points, and is the second-highest scoring freshman d-man in the conference. Both players have been plug-and-play freshman but Schandor gets the edge as one of the top scorers on the team.
Best defenseman: Adam Karashik
Often referred to as “the heart and soul of the team” by head coach Mike Cavanaugh, Adam Karashik has been a rock on defense this season. He sets the tone physically with big hits throughout the game but also plays a steady game in back. Karashik has also gotten more involved on the offensive end as well with eight points (one goal, seven assists), tying his previous high in a season.
Biggest surprise: Ryan Tverberg
The fact that Tverberg is even on the team, let alone one of the team’s top players, is a surprise in itself. He only committed to UConn on Nov. 17 — three days before the season opener — and was expected to come to Storrs as part of the team’s 2021 class. But after the NCAA granted all winter athletes a free year of eligibility this season, the coaching staff decided to bring Tverberg in early.
He’s played in 13 games so far — somehow more than Firstov — and has totaled four goals and three assists. His speed and skating ability have given defenses fits and provide UConn with a dimension it previously lacked.
Unsung hero(es): Ryan Keane and Bradley Stone
UConn’s two healthy backup goaltenders haven’t seen a single second of action behind Vomacka but both have played an important role on this year’s team regardless. Cavanaugh explained why this is the case prior to the Huskies’ last game:
“There’s roles on every team and [backup goaltenders are] an important role. There’s guys that stay out after practice and take a lot of shots and you need a goaltender that’s going to stay out there. Tomas isn’t going to stay out after practice today and take 50 to 100 shots. He’s just not and I don’t want him to. But there are players who want to shoot and work on things and I give Brad and Ryan Keane all credit in the world. They stay out there and they take a plethora of shots on Thursdays when guys are working on things.”
Comeback player of the year: Roman Kinal
Roman Kinal missed all of last season with blood clots in his chest and immediately returned to the lineup as a redshirt sophomore. He also missed seven games with a knee injury in the latter portion of the year, so he’s earned this award on two accounts. Kinal’s played in 15 games this season, totaling one goal and five assists while ranking second on the team with a plus-minus of +9.
Best team performance: 5-3 win over Providence
A de-facto playoff game with fourth place on the line in the regular-season finale, UConn dominated Providence in a 5-3 victory. The Huskies came out with their hair on fire and blitzed Providence with four goals in the first period and a fifth just 25 seconds into the second period. Though the Friars made a comeback bid in the third, UConn held on to earn one of its biggest regular-season victories in program history.
Best individual performance: Jonny Evan’s four-goal game vs. Merrimack
With a four-goal night against Merrimack on Jan. 30, Evans set UConn’s Division I record for the most goals in a single game. He scored in every which way, doing so at even strength, on a delayed penalty, on the power play, and even shorthanded. Evans singlehandedly flipped the game from a 2-1 scoreline to a 6-1 rout and earned the sixth hat trick in UConn’s Hockey East Era.
Photo of the year
Kale Howarth mid-celebration against UMass Lowell:
Goal of the year
UConn GOAL!!!— UConn Men's Hockey (@UConnMHOC) January 17, 2021
John Spetz weaves through the D and puts a nice finish on his 3rd goal of the season. Huskies lead 7-3.#IceBus pic.twitter.com/hULV8WLPts