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UConn men’s hockey’s senior class still has more history to make

The Huskies’ large senior class has already established itself as the best in program history but there’s still one glaring omission from their resume.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

If the season ended today, UConn men’s hockey’s seniors would have already done enough to cement their place as the most successful class in the program’s history.

Before they arrived, the Huskies’ highest finish ever in four years of Hockey East was fifth. The now-seniors finished fifth in 2019-20, fourth last season and should be top-five once again this year barring something crazy. They also helped UConn achieve its first-ever ranking last season (No. 20) and its highest ranking ever this season (No. 19). They also have the program in the hunt for its first NCAA Tournament appearance.

With a 17-14-0 overall record and 13-9-0 mark in Hockey East, the team has either claimed or is closing in on some milestones. The 13 wins are the Huskies’ most-ever in Hockey East and they need just one more win to secure their first winning season under head coach Mike Cavanaugh.

The seniors came to UConn as the team’s 2018 recruiting class. Jonny Evans, Marc Gatcomb, Jachym Kondelik, Carter Turnbull, Ryan Wheeler and John Wojciechowski remain and will be honored during senior day on Saturday along with Roman Kinal — who missed his true sophomore season with a blood clot — along with transfers Jarrod Gourley, Darion Hanson and Kevin O’Neil.

The class also included four other players. Kale Howarth, Ruslan Iskhakov and Tomas Vomacka all turned pro early, while Jordan Timmons transferred to Robert Morris while Corson Green left after his freshman year.

Together, the 2018 class has accomplished a lot. But they’ve also made plenty of history individually.

Last season, Evans became UConn’s first-ever Division I All-American with a 14-goal, 15-assist campaign. He had a four-goal performance against Merrimack in Jan. 2021 — the most in a single-game by a player during the program’s Division I Era (1998-present) and is the only player during the Huskies’ Hockey East Era (2014-present) with multiple hat tricks — and he has three.

Meanwhile, Kondelik recently became UConn’s Division I assists leader with 74 and is one of eight Huskies to reach 100 points at the DI level. He also has the most career points in the program’s Hockey East Era.

Hanson is closing in on history, too. He needs just two wins to become the winningest goaltender in the program’s Division I Era and three wins to capture the overall record. His 2.35 goals against average and .920 save percentage are also close to the best single-season marks by a UConn Hockey East goaltender.

Ironically, those records are held by another player from the 2018 class: Tomas Vomacka’s 2.32 GAA and .922 save percentage during the 2018-19 season are the current records to beat. Hanson’s numbers should only improve with an offensively-challenged Vermont team coming in for two games this weekend.

The senior class helped lift the Huskies from being scrappy underdogs just trying to hang on in one of the most competitive leagues in the country into a consistent top-five program in Hockey East. They’ve come a long way from their freshman year, when the team went 12-20-2 and endured a nearly three-month stretch where they failed to record a single win against a Hockey East opponent.

“We kind of took our lumps with that class early on,” Cavanaugh said.

UConn did show signs of life at the end of that season as it won six of its final nine games — capped off by an upset of No. 2 UMass on senior night. The next year, the Huskies got off to a slow start before figuring it out in the second half and racing to a fifth-place finish. They followed that up with another step forward last season as they earned the fourth seed in the Hockey East Playoffs during a bizarre, COVID-shortened campaign.

Even though UConn may not finish higher than fourth this year, the program has still improved. The Huskies are currently 20th in the Pairwise ranking — the metric that determines which teams make the NCAA Tournament — their highest position ever at this point in the year. The now-seniors have helped UConn make steady progress every year.

“Watching them continue to get better and better, for me, that’s a sign that our program’s going in the right direction,” Cavanaugh said. “We have so many seniors this year which means that we’re retaining our seniors, we’re retaining our players and they continue to develop and get better.”

There is one big thing missing from the senior class’s resume, though: A playoff win. They’ve only played in a single postseason game — a 6-1 loss to Providence at Freitas Ice Forum last season. It hasn’t completely been their fault, either.

As freshmen, Hockey East changed the format of the tournament so that only the top eight teams made the field instead of all 11 and the Huskies finished ninth. In 2020, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out a quarterfinal series against Maine — a team UConn went 2-1 against during the regular season.

Last season, Hockey East switched what had previously been best-of-three series in the quarterfinals into a single-elimination tournament. That meant one bad game ended the Huskies’ season.

“It’s been a really funky four years,” Cavanaugh said of the senior class’s experience. “Last year was kind of a crazy situation. We got one playoff game.”

While beating Vermont on Friday might be in the forefront of the seniors’ minds, they’re certainly aware of the lack of postseason success — both in terms of their careers and for the program as a whole. UConn is one of five schools that have never made the 16-team NCAA Tournament. They want to change that.

“We have a pretty big senior class so we obviously want to do something special with each other,” Evans said at the end of last season. “Our goal is going to be to win Hockey East, obviously, and make the NCAA Tournament. That’s going to be a huge goal for us going forward.”

Even though the Huskies’ seniors have already accomplished more than any other group that’s come through Storrs before them, they still have more history to make. But most importantly, they believe they can do it.

“We’ve just grown so much from maturity to playing style. You can see just how much we’ve grown over the past four years and I think that’s really helped our play,” Gatcomb said. “Everyone’s super confident, everyone knows what to do in certain situations. So I think that’s a huge key factor down the stretch and at the end of the year.”