This weekend, UConn men’s hockey begins a new campaign. While the Huskies are coming off their best season ever, they dealt with significant roster turnover in the off-season and have a new-look roster entering the new year. There are plenty of question marks up and down the lineup which makes it difficult to know how the team will look when they take the ice this weekend at Vermont.
Even with so much uncertainty, that didn’t stop us from making 10 predictions for UConn’s 2022-23 season.
Hockey East finish: Sixth place
Over the last five seasons, UConn has finished in at least fifth place four times — including back-to-back fourth place finishes. Considering how many new players the Huskies have — and how deep Hockey East is — that won’t continue. The team will need time to gel which could lead to a slow start that leads to a few frustrating results. UConn is still good enough to earn a respectable finish but the early growing pains will drop the Huskies to sixth.
Top goalscorer: Ryan Tverberg
Tverberg is coming off a 14-goal and 18-assist campaign that earned him All-American honors. Now, he’ll try to replicate the feat with a surrounding cast that looks much different than a year ago. With the likes of Jachym Kondelik, Jonny Evans and Vladislav Firstov to worry about elsewhere in the roster last year, Tverberg often capitalized against weaker defensive matchups.
But with just four other returning forwards, defenses will try to key in on Tverberg and force the rest of the forwards to beat them. Even still, his combination of speed and skill allows him single-handedly make plays while he also has vision to set up his teammates and the hockey IQ to put himself in the right place at the right time. Bet against another big season from Tverberg at your own risk.
Most assists: Hudson Schandor
Despite missing eight games due to both injury and illness, Schandor’s 13 assists were tied for fifth-most on the team. He’ll likely be UConn’s top center with Kondelik and Artem Shlaine gone, which will give the junior plenty of opportunities on the puck. Schandor is more than capable of putting the puck in the net himself, but he’s at his best when he can get the puck to his teammates — especially if he’s on the same line as a goal scorer like Tverberg or Matthew Wood.
Breakout player: Chase Bradley
As a freshman, Bradley didn’t put up a ton of production (four goals, five assists) but played well in the areas that don’t show up in the stat sheet. He defended, limited penalties and made UConn a better team when he was on the ice — exemplified by the fact that the Huskies went 2-4 when he missed time down the stretch.
UConn also didn’t need Bradley to be a point-producer last season with how much firepower the offense had, but with an overhauled position group, it’ll count on the sophomore to take a step forward. The coaching staff is incredibly high on Bradley’s potential and he’ll show why this season by racking up over 20 points — while continuing to chip in everywhere else, too.
Best defenseman: John Spetz
UConn has nothing if not an extremely solid defensive corps. There are no stars among the group but no liabilities, either. Of the blue liners, Spetz has the most potential, though. As a freshman, he showed a rare combination of lockdown defense and offensive ability that landed him on every single unit. Spetz took a small step back as a sophomore due to some inconsistency but with so much uncertainty at forward, he’ll have a big season.
Best newcomer: Matthew Wood
UConn’s best-ever recruit arrived in Storrs this fall as the youngest player in the country at 17. While Wood will struggle at times, he has too much talent not to be a major contributor from day one.
“He has 17 year old moments at times but he also has moments where you’re saying, ‘This kid’s a first round draft pick,’” Mike Cavanaugh said.
The coach has compared Wood’s shot to the likes of Alex Ovechkin and UConn great Tage Thompson, which is where the freshman will find the most success initially. He may struggle with the speed and strength of the college game early on but if the Huskies can get him into open space, he’ll put the puck in the back of the net.
Wood will get more comfortable as the season goes on and by the postseason, he won’t even look like a freshman anymore. When it’s all over, Wood will be one of UConn’s top five point-getters.
Under-the-radar freshman: Jake Percival
While Wood and Samu Salminen have received most of the hype among the team’s freshman, those around the program have raved about Percival ever since he committed. He’s a native of Avon and a well-rounded player who should contribute in all situations. Percival is in line for a Chase Bradley-type freshman year where he may not necessarily rack up the points but will establish himself as a crucial piece of the team by the end of the year.
Goaltender with the most starts: Arsenii Sergeev
As UConn’s first game approach, there’s not much daylight between its two options in goal: Sophomore Logan Terness and freshman Arsenii Sergeev. Both have performed well during the preseason and the competition is so close that there’s no clear frontrunner for the starting job. The two will probably split time early in the season until one stands out above the other.
Both players have high potential but Sergeev has the advantage in both size and athleticism, which will give him just enough of an edge to earn more starts than Terness this season.
UConn goes undefeated in Toscano Family Ice Forum
On Jan. 14, UConn will play its first game in Toscano Family Ice Forum, the new, on-campus arena, against Northeastern. After that, the Huskies will host their final five home contests in Storrs as well. Even though the capacity is small (2,600), the steep stands and student presence will give UConn a home ice advantage that it’s rarely experienced at the XL Center. Even with tough games against Northeastern, UMass and Boston College on the docket, that edge will help the Huskies go undefeated in the new rink’s first campaign.
UConn gets to Boston but falls short of its first Hockey East championship
After eight years without a Hockey East playoff win, UConn finally broke through last season and made a run to the championship game, where it fell one goal short of a title and a trip to the NCAA Tournament. All offseason, the Huskies have made it clear their goal is to get back there and win it this time.
“I like their hunger to want to get back to the Boston Garden (for the Hockey East championship) and that’s been evident to me from day one,” Cavanaugh said. “I was out recruiting in British Columbia in August, and had lunch with Hudson (Schandor) and that’s all he could talk about...It was about, ‘We’re getting back there, Coach.’”
Now that the monkey is off its back, UConn will get back to the TD Garden after winning in the first round and quarterfinals. However, the Huskies will fall short of their ultimate goal, losing in the semifinals.