Friday, June 13, 2014

Know Your Enemy: UConn

Once upon a time, RPI was considered by multiple outlets to be a good candidate to become the 12th team in Hockey East following Notre Dame's accession as the 11th. The rationale against UConn becoming that team was simple - although every other New England state school sponsoring college hockey was part of the league, UConn simply didn't have the facilities, the scholarships, or the coach to allow them to be even remotely competitive, and the school didn't seem to have the interest. Once the interest was there, the scholarships promised, and the coach upgraded (and the facilities promised soon), it was a no-brainer. UConn, long far less important in the hockey scene as compared to basketball (and football, to an extent), is about to become far more relevant.

Connecticut
Nickname: Huskies
Location: Storrs, CT
Founded: 1881
Conference: Hockey East
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: None
Coach: Mike Cavanaugh (2nd season)
2013-14 Record: 18-14-4 (15-9-3 AHA, 3rd place)
Series: RPI leads, 3-0-2
First Game: January 18, 1930 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: November 26, 2010 (Troy, NY)
Last UConn win: Never

2014-15 game: November 18, 2014 (Storrs, CT)

Key players: F Trevor Gerling, sr.; D Jacob Poe, sr.; F Ryan Tyson, sr.; D Tyler Cooke, jr.; F Joe Ferriss, jr.; D Kyle Huson, jr.; F Patrick Kirtland, jr.; F Shawn Pauly, jr.; D Joona Kunnas, so.; G Robby Nichols, so.; F Brent Norris, so.; D Ryan Segalla, so.; D David Drake, fr.; F Kasperi Ojantakanen, fr.; F Corey Ronan, fr.; F Jesse Schwartz, fr.; 

Previous KYE installments:
This is a big season for UConn, as their move to Hockey East gives the program a legitimate opportunity to raise its profile. With the Huskies' new regimen of scholarships and their more competitive conference, recruiting has certainly picked up. While it'll be difficult to peg them as contenders in Hockey East for another couple of seasons at least, the youth movement is definitely on in Storrs.

The announcement of the pending move came a few months after the 2011-12 season ended, and it had immediate impact on UConn's fortunes. Where the Huskies had been a weak to middling team for years in advance of the major news, they rebounded to a 4th place finish in Atlantic Hockey in 2013 and a tie for third in 2014. This didn't translate to postseason success, as UConn was ousted by Mercyhurst in the semifinals in 2013 and by eventual champions Robert Morris in 2014, but the trajectory is clearly moving in the right direction for the Huskies.

It's difficult to get a solid grasp on this team, however, in part because the increase in fortunes in Atlantic Hockey is relatively inconsequential to how competitive they'll be in Hockey East, and in part because the Huskies lose their top three scorers from last season and their top choice goaltender.

Defensively, UConn was quite strong last season, allowing just 2.39 goals per game. Nichols, the presumed new backstop, had even better individual numbers in the action that he saw last season, which was not an insignificant amount as he got the start in 11 of the Huskies' 36 outings and made two other appearances.

Offensively, the team left something to be desired last season, but again, this is a program with much of its talent in its sophomore and freshman classes, so something like that is to be expected. While the team's top three scorers were all seniors, they return all of the remainder of their offensive output from last season, including Pauly and Gerling, who were both 20 point scorers.

This is certainly a game that should provide a bit of a test for the RPI offense. The UConn defense is certainly competent, and while the Engineers will have seen more difficult defenses ahead of this game, it'll provide a good benchmark for discovering RPI's true potential when they have the puck going forward. Expect the Engineers to be slight favorites for this contest, with the difference coming in UConn holding home ice advantage for the first time. The Huskies may have never beaten RPI, but the time is coming soon where they'll be able to put up a very strong challenge.

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