Playing catch-up, Part VI: Connecticut

Matt Grogan of the UConn Huskies

When all was said and done, Connecticut had quietly put together a fairly impressive 2012-13 Atlantic Hockey campaign. Unfortunately, the Huskies probably received more attention over the past 15 months when they announced they were leaving the Atlantic Hockey Association for Hockey East and when former Head Coach Bruce Marshall resigned in early January following a two-month absence due to personal issues. The team’s slow-but-steady run to the AHA Final Four almost seemed like an afterthought.

Perhaps Marshall’s exit, and the subsequent work done by interim Head Coach Dave Berard, gave UConn a much-needed sense of stability — the team posted an 11-5-2 record from Jan. 4 through the end of regular season, earned a first-round bye with a fourth-place finish in the conference, and then swept a tough Robert Morris team out of the quarterfinal round of the AHA playoffs. The Huskies were knocked out of the Atlantic Hockey version of the Frozen Four in Rochester by Mercyhurst, who subsequently lost to Canisius in the title game. UConn’s 19-14-4 record marked its first finish above .500 in over a decade.

UConn is slated to leave Atlantic Hockey in 2014-15 to join Hockey East. The team will play its final AHA season in new uniforms, which were unveiled in late August:

UConn hockey sweater

Not bad.

Senior goaltender Matt Grogan was named as the 2012-13 third-team All-Atlantic Hockey goaltender. Grogan finished the season with a 14-3-3 record and a 1.88 goals-against average. Grogan will return in 2013-14 to play a “second” senior season as he has a year of eligibility remaining.

Matt Cavanaugh was officially named head coach on May 8. Cavanaugh, according to The Hartford Courant, “comes to Storrs after 18 years as an assistant to Jerry York at (Boston College), the last nine as associate head coach. He was on the staff for teams that reached 10 Frozen Fours and won four national championships, nine Hockey East tournament titles and six regular-season titles.”

” My mission here,” Cavanaugh said in his press conference, “is going to be to graduate players and win championships.”

““When I went to Boston College, they said we couldn’t recruit Canadians,” he continued.  “If you just listen to people say that you can’t do something and say ‘I don’t think we can do that’ then you’re not going to be successful at anything.  I’m excited to recruit the talent here.  I’ve been recruiting this talent for a long time.  I have a lot of connections here; trusted friendships.  I don’t think it’s going to be a problem.  I look forward to the challenge of recruiting [Connecticut] kids.”

He also admitted that he is a little new to the ways of Atlantic Hockey, but didn’t plan to timidly run out the clock on Connecticut’s AHA experience.

“This year will be a little more challenging for me because I don’t know the Atlantic Hockey opponents as well,” Cavanaugh said. “It’s imperative that I set the tone for this program.  [Winning Atlantic Hockey] is our goal this year.  Hockey East can wait.”

In June, Cavanaugh added former Brown assistant coach Mike Souza and 2010-11 Boston University captain Joe Pereira to his staff..

New faces for the Huskies will include:

  • Forward Austin Azurdia, whose last-second goal for the Langley Rivermen of the BCHL in Oct. 2012 went viral;
  •  High-scoring forward Sean Gaffney, who collected 66 points in 58 games for the Topeka Roadrunners (NAHL) in 2012-13;
  • Defenseman Joona Kunnas, a native Finn who played 32 games with the Middlesex Islanders (EJHL) last season;
  • Forward Dan Mele, who collected 126 points in three seasons with the Springfield Pics (EJHL);
  • Defenseman Christian Neumann, who logged 104 games with the Chicago Steel (USHL) over the past two seasons;
  • Goaltender Robby Nichols, who posted a 1.77 g.a.a. in 10 playoff games for the Wenatchee Wild (NAHL) in 2012-13;
  • Forward Brent Norris, a 71-point scorer over his past 60 games with the Nepean Raiders of the CCHL;
  • Forward Brett Skibba, a former Player of the Month for the Springfield Jr. Blues (NAHL).

Connecticut will open its season on the road on Oct. 18-19 against Minnesota State. The Huskies will the settle into a five-game home stand beginning with a visit from Union on Oct. 25, the Atlantic Hockey opener against Army on Nov. 1, and contests with regional rivals Sacred Heart, Holy Cross, and Bentley before traveling to Beantown to face Boston University on Nov. 17.

In other news, former goaltender Garrett Bartus appeared in the playoffs for the Greenville (S.C.) squad in the ECHL playoffs in April.

Cole Schneider, the sophomore phenom who scored 78 points in 75 games from 2010 to 2012 before turning pro, had 17 goals and 18 assists in 60 games for the Birmingham Senators (AHL) in 2012-13. Big things are expected in the year to come, according to Senshot.com:

“Cole has quick hands, he’s strong to the net, and can score in bunches. He reads the ice well and credits his offensive success mostly with line mates Mark Stone or Shane Prince and Stephane Da Costa, while rotating center’s Derek Grant and Pat Cannone playing a part. He also saw the lines of Jack Downing-David Dziurzynski on occasion. Schneider also participated on both the pp, scoring 4 goals as well as the pk units. He’s a streaky scorer having had four 2 goal games and one 4 point night, so when’s he’s got his mojo working, look out. I see him being capable of putting up 50-60 points this year, especially if Da Costa is centering him, as those two really clicked well last season.”

Thanks to uconnhuskies.com for the updates.

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