UConn coach Bruce Marshall hopes that he’s found a remedy for a big problem in past years — a slow start.
The last two seasons the Huskies have been slow out of the gate, recovering nicely two years ago to take the MAAC championship, but never getting their heads above water last year en route to a less-than-impressive tie for fifth place and a first-round exit from the playoffs.
This year, Marshall hopes he’s found a way to deal with the problem. Simply start the season earlier.
Thus, UConn put together a five-games-in-five-days trip to Finland and Sweden to play exhibitions against local junior teams.
The results were less than impressive, with a 1-4 record on the trip. Nonetheless, Marshall thought the experience was priceless.
“I think the team bonded real well [in Sweden and Finland],” said Marshall. “The seniors took charge of the team on that trip making sure of everything — from the kids working hard to making sure they were behaved.
“I think that gives us a step up come October. You’ve got 20 guys in August going through a mini-training camp and there’s a mentality that we’re in this together.
“It will help us retool in the defensive zone early on, because 20 of the guys already know what’s going on. Now they’re just got to teach the other guys.”
The other guys are the freshmen, who, due to NCAA rules, are not allowed to participate in such trips before they are enrolled students at the school.
In terms of returning players, UConn still does have some holes. Up front, the Huskies lost their top two scorers in Michael Goldkind and Ciro Longobardi. Defensively they return last year’s rookie phenom Matt Herhal and senior Mike Boylan. And in goal, Jason Carey and Artie Imbriano, both impressive at times last season, enter their sophomore season.
“I thought our goaltending was adequate last year,” said Marshall. “Our defense has to get stronger. That doesn’t necessarily mean our defensive zone, either. It just means the overall play of the guys back there on the blue line.
“We brought in five defensemen to go along with two kids I think are pretty solid night in and night out in Mike Boylan and Eric Nelson.”
Besides a better start, one of Marshall’s goals this year is achieving success in close games. That could be the difference between home ice and not, or more importantly, a playoff spot or not.
“We had a lot of one-goal games last year,” Marshall said. “And from three to 11 it’s going to be anyone’s race. Change the outcome of those games, and things could change.
“It’s important for us to get out to a good start and not put a lot of pressure on ourselves that way. Last year we started out slow and that hurt us. We kept shooting ourselves in the foot.”