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UConn men’s hockey position preview: Goaltenders

The Huskies are holding an open competition to replace Tomas Vomacka between the pipes.

Daniel Connolly - The UConn Blog

For the first time since joining Hockey East, UConn men’s hockey will go into a season with a completely new goaltender.

In 2016-17, freshman Adam Huska split time with senior Rob Nichols before taking over as the full-time starter the next season. In 2018-19, freshman Tomas Vomacka claimed the job mid-season over Huska and started all but one game over the next two years.

Vomacka is gone after signing an NHL entry deal with the Nashville Predators. To replace him, three players — Darion Hanson, Matt Pasquale, and Logan Terness — will compete for the job. Junior Ryan Keane — the only goaltender on the roster to appear in a game for the Huskies, playing 9:23 in mop-up duty during a blowout loss to Providence — will be out until at least January due to labrum surgery.

“It’s an open competition,” head coach Mike Cavanaugh said.

Throughout the preseason, all three players will be evaluated by the coaching staff — including volunteer goaltender coach Vince Stalletti — in live action, practice, and during scrimmages. Even when the regular season begins, the competition will continue.

“It’s a long season and whoever gets deemed the starter against Sacred Heart, that doesn’t mean they’re going to be the starter down the stretch,” Cavanaugh said. “It’s going to be a constant evaluation.”

During Vomacka’s sophomore and junior seasons, he played every minute of every game when healthy. But there have also been years where two players split time in goal. While both methods can be effective with the right players, Cavanaugh generally prefers the former.

“I think typically, it’s always better to have one guy that is your goaltender,” he said. “However, I have coached teams where there’s one starter but there’s a 1B and it’s nice to be able to bring that guy in when you play in three games in five days and give him a game and know that you’re not losing much in goal. But you do have one clear-cut starter.”

Though all three players will have an equal opportunity to win the job, Hanson and Terness have emerged as front-runners through the first few weeks of the preseason.

Hanson comes to UConn after spending the first three years of his career at Union, where he owned a 2.55 goals against average and a .913 save percentage despite playing on some bad teams. As a junior, Hanson faced the second-most shots in the nation and only allowed 2.79 goals per game with a .910 save percentage amid an 8-25-4 campaign.

The biggest concern with Hanson is rust. Union canceled its 2020-21 season because of the pandemic, so the net-minder hasn’t played in over a year and a half. In UConn’s first preseason scrimmage, Hanson didn’t allow any goals but was clearly still re-adjusting to the speed and intensity of live action. He looked much more comfortable between the pipes during practice on Thursday, Sept. 16, though.

Despite the extended time away for Hanson, Cavanaugh doesn’t expect it to be a problem.

“I’m not that concerned about it. [Hanson’s] been skating and playing and he’s an older guy,” Cavanaugh said. “He’s played a lot of hockey — college hockey. He’s not going to forget overnight.”

Meanwhile, Terness played the last two seasons in the BCHL, one of the top junior hockey leagues in North America. At just 17 years old during the 2020 season, he won the league’s Rookie of the Year award and picked up second-team All-BCHL honors with a 2.36 GAA and .932 save percentage in 44 games with the Trail Smoke Eaters.

The league played a shortened season last year because of the pandemic, so Terness only played in 12 games. Either way, UConn is excited about his potential.

“Vince Stalletti, our goaltending coach, really thinks he has a bright future ahead of him,” Cavanaugh said of Terness.

Pasquale is a long shot for the job. He came to UConn midway through the 2019-20 season after the Huskies were forced to play a couple of games without a backup goaltender but didn’t see any game action. Pasquale then missed the entire 2020-21 campaign after undergoing labrum surgery in the fall but is now fully recovered.

While Pasquale is behind both Hanson and Terness, he’s held his own during team drills and scrimmages but sometimes allows too many rebounds and second-chance opportunities. Even still, Pasquale looks to be a capable backup if either of the other two goaltenders go down and will be a valuable player for the team in practice.

Prediction

To this point, there hasn’t been much daylight in the competition between Hanson and Terness. Unless the freshman pulls away or Hanson’s rust really becomes apparent, Hanson will likely get the nod for the season opener against Sacred Heart due to his experience. Cavanaugh noted that if he needed to make a decision on Tuesday, Hanson would be the starter but there are still five or six practices to evaluate.

Cavanaugh’s assertion that the competition will continue throughout the season isn’t just coach-speak, either. If Hanson is named the starter, he’ll have to prove himself in every game and practice with Terness right behind him — something which should only benefit both players and the team as a whole.