The 2001-02 season ended with both a flourish and a whimper for Connecticut. After winning an unlikely game at Holy Cross on a last-minute goal to advance to the MAAC final four for the third time in four years, the Huskies were shut out by Mercyhurst in the league semifinals.
But though that was likely a disappointment for head coach Bruce Marshall, it paled in comparison to the rest of the season. A poor start for the Huskies left the league champs from two seasons earlier in a position to miss the playoffs for the first time ever.
— Bruce Marshall, on a nonleague schedule that includes Yale, Northeastern and UNH
But a six-game winning streak in the midst of winter saw the Huskies average more then four goals a game and proved one thing: this team had the ability to score.
“Last year our offense was solid at times,” said Marshall. “I think offensively we have guys returning that had some success last year and I hope they’ll take that into another year when it’s really needed.”
Now, though, Marshall is left with figuring out the other half of the game. Though the offense scored a healthy 104 goals last year, the defense allowed 129 tallies, and this with all-league pick Mike Boylan anchoring the blue line. So now, without Boylan to key it, the UConn defense will need something or someone to step up and enhance the team-defense concept.
That may start with the last line of defense — goaltending. Both Artie Imbriano and Jason Carey have shown flashes of brilliance, but consistency, or lack thereof, may dictate UConn’s success.
“Last year, I don’t think our goaltending ever really hurt us, but it never really helped us,” said Marshall. “If you can get them to be a difference, it makes things happen.”
Marshall hopes that each of his goaltenders might push the other, knowing much of the team’s hopes rest on their shoulders.
“We split [both goaltenders] down the stretch last year and now I think they’re looking at each other to want to be the number-one,” said Marshall.
Marshall likes the rest of the club’s nucleus.
“I think we have good balance in the group, it’s now just a question if someone’s going to step up and prove that,” said Marshall. “We need players who want to have breakthrough kind of years.”
Those breakthrough years will also be needed to carry UConn into an aggressive nonleague schedule that features the likes of Yale, Northeastern, New Hampshire, Mass-Amherst and Union.
“It’s probably one of the more ambitious nonleague schedules that we’ve had. It’s going to be demanding and it’s going to prepare us,” said Marshall. “Last year after a weekend in Providence [against Providence College and Brown] we had a six-game winning streak. So this year we’re [playing some nonleague games] a bit earlier and we’ll see what that does for us.”