UConn men’s hockey’s 2018 recruiting class has proven to be a program-changing group. The Huskies have finished in fifth and fourth place in Hockey East in the last two seasons, respectively, appeared in the national polls for the first time in program history, and grabbed two victories over teams ranked No. 2 in the country.
Of the four draftees in the class, three — Ruslan Iskhakov, Kale Howarth, and Tomas Vomacka — have turned pro. Meanwhile, Jonny Evans was named an All-American and Carter Turnbull tied for the team lead in goals with 12 as a sophomore.
But none of them have made a larger impact on the program than Jachym Kondelik.
The 6-foot-5 center from the Czech Republic is UConn’s career leader in assists during the Hockey East era and needs just seven more to take over the top spot in the program’s Division I (1998-present) record books. Kondelik needs nine more points to pass Max Letunov as the Hockey East era points leader and 13 more to become the seventh Division I Husky to reach 100 total.
He’s also missed just one game in his career and was voted captain as a senior.
On Wednesday, Kondelik received some well-earned national recognition by being named a candidate for the Hobey Baker Award alongside teammate Ryan Tverberg. Teams can submit up to three players for consideration and head coach Mike Cavanaugh felt Kondelik deserved it.
“I think Jachym has been consistently our best player all year long,” the coach said. “I’ve thought the world of him as a player...he’s certainly a kid we wouldn’t trade for anybody.”
Associate head coach Joe Pereira first identified Kondelik in the USHL, when he was playing with the Muskegon Lumberjacks. Cavanaugh then went to see for himself and instantly liked what he saw from the big forward. UConn brought Kondelik in for a visit at the same time as fellow countrymate Tomas Vomacka and eventually landed him over Boston University.
“When it came down to it, he felt comfortable here at UConn,” Cavanaugh explained. “I’m glad he chose us.”
From the start, Kondelik was an instant impact player. He recorded two assists in UConn’s season-opening win at Army and finished the year with a team-high 22 assists and 26 points, second-most on the squad. As a sophomore, Kondelik scored a career-high eight goals and had 23 points overall in 34 games. The next year, he totaled 22 points in just 23 games and earned Third Team Hockey East All-Star honors.
Kondelik’s junior year did have a quirk, though. He failed to score a single goal until the regular-season finale and then exploded with a hat trick in the first period against Providence. One game later, Kondelik added another in a playoff loss to the Friars.
Though the outburst came at the very end of the year, Cavanaugh had long pushed Kondelik to shoot more himself instead of trying to set his teammates up. It took nearly three full seasons for him to get the message but once it clicked for him, the goals started to come. As a senior, Kondelik is up to six on the year, two behind his career-high and second-most on the team.
For Cavanaugh, that improvement is emblematic of Kondelik’s growth throughout his time in Storrs.
“I know he’s kind of always been a pass-first player but it just shows that he’s coachable, too,” the coach said.
“He’s grown up on and off the ice,” Cavanaugh added. “He’s really preparing himself to be a professional. I think he takes care of his body so much better now than he did when he was a freshman — and that’s only natural, I think. He’s really become a great 200-foot player.”
Nobody has been more valuable for UConn than Kondelik this season. He’s second on the team with 16 points and leads in minutes because he’s on the ice in every possible situation for the Huskies.
“He kills penalties and he’s on the power play,” Cavanaugh said. “He’s out there at the end of a game — 5-on-6 or 6-on-5.”
Kondelik also excels in areas that don’t show up on the stat sheet. He’s great with the puck — whether that’s carrying into the zone and protecting it from the opposition or winning battles along the boards or behind the net. It’s rare to see Kondelik cough it up.
“He’s probably our most responsible player,” Cavanaugh said.
As UConn begins the stretch run of its season, Kondelik will certainly have a big say in the team’s success the rest of the way. The Huskies are not only aiming for their first Hockey East postseason win but also looking to make a run in the playoffs and reach the NCAA Tournament. It would be fitting for Kondelik and the rest of the senior class to go out by helping the program accomplish a few more firsts.
After Kondelik’s time at UConn, Cavanaugh expects him to continue playing for a long time at the professional level.
“I’ve just been so proud of him, the way he’s grown, matured, and developed as a hockey player,” Cavanaugh said. “I think the sky’s the limit for him.”
UConn remains healthy and should have everyone available for selection on Friday night, according to Cavanaugh.
How to watch
Date: Friday, Jan. 14
Time: 7:05 p.m.
Location: XL Center, Hartford, CT
Streaming: SportsLive (free)