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UConn men’s hockey’s season ends as a disappointing overachievement

The Huskies blew past preseason expectations, but failed to capitalize on the best start in program history.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

When UConn men’s hockey fell in the Hockey East championship game in March 2022, the door closed on an era for the program. The Huskies’ core developed over four years, rising from a 12-win campaign and ninth-place finish back in 2018-19 to a 20-win season that came a bounce away from reaching the program’s first ever NCAA Tournament in 2021-22.

15 players departed after the season, including Jachym Kondelik (the program’s leader in points since joining Hockey East), Jonny Evans, (the first Division I All-American in program history) and Darion Hanson (the goaltender who set every Hockey East era record at UConn). In total, the Huskies lost 63.3 of their goals and 54.7 percent of their assists from the year before.

A step back would’ve been natural. Even though four transfers arrived to fill some of the holes, UConn needed to rely heavily on its 12-player freshman class. The last time the Huskies faced such significant roster turnover, they dropped from a fifth place finish in 2018 to a ninth place finish in 2019. In our preseason prediction, we picked UConn to fall from fourth place in 2022 to sixth place in 2023.

Instead, the Huskies finished fourth again and recorded 20 wins in back-to-back years for the first time in program history. They also achieved their best start ever at 9-1-1 and climbed as high as No. 7 in the polls while picking up two first-place votes in the process during the week of Nov. 7.

Matthew Wood, the best recruit the team had ever landed, lived up to the hype by leading the team with 23 assists and 34 points. Andrew Lucas had the most productive season of any defenseman under Cavanaugh with 22 assists. Hudson Schandor, Chase Bradley and Nick Capone all took steps forward and became lynchpins on offense while Ryan Tverberg led the team in goals for the second straight year.

Other newcomers like Justin Pearson (13 goals), Samu Salminen (nine goals, eight assists despite arriving in late October due to a visa issue) and Ty Amonte (earned a letter on his jersey after the preseason) all made an impact as well. At goaltender — the biggest question facing UConn before the season — Logan Terness and Arsenii Sergeev both impressed while splitting time.

The Huskies new core came together quickly, which allowed them to avoid a transition year and instead re-establish themselves as contenders in Hockey East.

By the end, UConn far outperformed any preseason expectations and took a major step forward by ending up in the exact same spot at the end of the regular season.

Yet given how the year unfolded, it’s hard not to come away feeling disappointed about how it ended. Sure, the Huskies failed to reach the TD Garden after going for the first time last season with a 2-1 loss to UMass Lowell in the quarterfinals, but they out-shot UMass Lowell 41-17 — and held the visitors to just five shots over the last two periods.

That’s not the let down. It’s the fact that UConn’s season is definitively over now after it looked so promising early on.

“It’s disappointing in some ways because of the start we had to the season,” head coach Mike Cavanaugh said after the loss. “It’s incumbent, as we keep building the program, to try to be in a position where this doesn’t end your season, that you move on to a national tournament. And I think that’s the next step for us.”

The Huskies swept their first two weekends and didn’t lose their second game until Nov. 18. They were as high as No. 3 in Pairwise and went into the new year still in the top 10, putting them in excellent position to reach the NCAA Tournament.

But after a 10-2-3 start, UConn went just 10-10-0 the rest of the way. The inflection point came on Nov. 26 at Madison Square Garden, where the Huskies were embarrassed by Cornell 6-0. They lost three of their last four entering the winter break and then dropped their first two games of 2023 to Northeastern.

UConn righted the ship with a sweep of UMass, nearly took down Quinnipiac to win CT Ice and finally got revenge on Northeastern with an overtime win on the road.

Then, the New Hampshire trip happened. During a two-game series in Durham, the Huskies were swept by UNH after a pair of lifeless performances. Those two defeats single-handedly ended UConn’s hopes for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Huskies needed to win the Hockey East Playoffs to make it in and as they’ve seen each of the last two seasons, getting through a single-elimination tournament is hard.

Once UConn lost to UMass Lowell, its season came to a screeching halt.

How the Huskies’ 2022-23 campaign should be viewed all depends on the perspective. Based off preseason expectations, it was nothing less than a rousing success and a clear sign that the program has elevated its floor. But looking at it from November onwards, it’s hard not to be disappointed.

UConn might’ve raised the floor, but it also failed to push the ceiling higher.