A year after posting an 8-23-3 record and missing the MAAC playoffs for the first time ever, Connecticut head coach Bruce Marshall knew it was time for a change.
The Huskies mentor did what he called an “evaluation,” but what most call “housecleaning.” The result: 12 of the 24 players scheduled to return to the team were asked not to. Instead, a freshman class of 14 — the largest in the league — was brought in to reinvigorate a UConn squad that lost a league-high 11 games at home last season.
“This is the first year since I’ve been coaching where I don’t definitely know where kids fit into the program,” said Marshall, entering his 16th year behind the UConn bench. “These kids have a chance to get in there and play and get going right away.”
And what does that translates into for the 12 returning players?
Said Marshall: “They should be thinking that there’s a young guy here who wants to play.”
As positive as a coach can be about such a rebirth, there’s still the fear and unsettlement that accompanies such a move.
“There’s going to be some growing pains,” said Marshall. “But a lot of these kids have been playing in some tough games in tough arenas. I’m not too worried about jitters.
“We brought in kids who are good hockey players and if you have the right mix with kids buying into the system we could be good.”
As the X-factor in a league that already has plenty of parity, UConn might be a bit of a magic ticket. There’s always a chance that teams could take UConn and its 14 freshmen a little lightly, and the fact that the Huskies could finish last in the preseason coaches poll shouldn’t worry Marshall.
But if the Huskies are going to make any strides, they’re first going to have to address defense. Last season, UConn allowed a league-worst 4.35 goals per game. Conversely, their offense finished middle of the pack but only scored an average of 2.68 GPG — a difference of nearly two goals.
One player who could make a difference here is rookie goaltender Scott Tomes. Tomes played last season in the EJHL for the Valley Warriors after playing prep school hockey at Milton Academy.
Tomes and the rest of the enormous rookie class will be looked upon right away by Marshall to do one thing: work.
“It’s blue-collar hockey for us this season. That’s what we have to get back to,” said Marshall. “You won’t see us on highlight films but at the end of the night our players will be able to say, ‘Hey, I just played a hockey game.’”