This year marks the third season for UConn in the Hockey East. The Huskies were 13-23-8 in league play over its first two seasons in the conference. They started 1-0 with a 4-2 win over seventh-ranked Notre Dame on Thursday night.
The 14-23-8 record in UConn’s first 45 games in Hockey East suggests exactly what was expected of the program when it entered the league two years ago. The friendly rivals down Interstate 84 would be, well, doormats. Maybe they’d pick up a win over a Providence here, tie a BU there, pick up a weekend sweep with an unsuspecting team once in a blue moon. And to be fair, the record suggests just that – a team that beats up on the Maines, New Hampshires, and Vermonts but can’t compete with the BCs, BUs, and Providences.
But it’s been the exact opposite. While talk of playing at the TD Garden for the Hockey East semifinals or qualifying for the NCAA tournament have been few and far between, the Huskies have been a respectable club, a formidable foe to conference opponents.
The Huskies win over the Irish on Thursday was its first. They’ve beat UMass-Lowell three times since joining the league. BC and BU have suffered defeats at the hands of the Huskies, while two of their eight ties have come against the two standard bearers of the conference. UConn is 8-12-4 against ranked opponents since entering the league.
This season, UConn is out to a 3-1-3 start through seven games – its lone loss to then-fourth ranked Quinnipiac – allowing just two goals per game, among eight teams in the nation to allow two goals or fewer. That group includes Army, BU, Bemidji State, Miami, North Dakota, Minnesota State, and Denver.
When factoring out odd-man situations (i.e. powerplays, shorthanded, extra attacker), the Huskies are outscoring opponents, 16-10, a goals-for percentage of .615. That’s good for sixth in the Hockey East. That said, Vermont is second in the conference in that category, where BC is the standard-bearer at .72. UConn is tied with UMass, and Maine is fourth. Meanwhile, UMass-Lowell and Providence lag along in the bottom five.
The centerpieces of the Huskies are a pair of Blues prospects, Maxim Letunov – a second-round pick by St. Louis in 2015 – and Tage Thompson, who was taken 26th overall by the Blues this past June. The duo combined for 30 goals and 72 points as freshmen last season, and are off to strong starts yet again in 2016-17; Thompson leads the team with eight points in seven games, Letunov has seven in six.
This year’s freshman class is headlined by Slovakian goaltender Adam Huska, a seventh-round pick by the New York Rangers. He was in net on Thursday, stopping 47 of 49 shots in the upset win. He compliments Rob Nichols, who has been among Hockey East’s most consistent goalies over the past three seasons.
Two of UConn’s three wins have come against Alabama-Huntsville while the Huskies tied American International out of Atlantic Hockey – a conference that has been pushing over the apple cart all season – but the Notre Dame win is more of a sign that this is a team going in the right direction. Expect to hear more about them as the season goes along.