The Connecticut Huskies are lame ducks for the next two seasons in Atlantic Hockey, having been accepted by Hockey East to join that conference beginning with the 2014-15 season.
But before they go, the Huskies could make some noise in the AHA. The school has started to offer athletic scholarships as it ramps up to change leagues.
Coming off a season that saw UConn finish eighth and win a playoff series with Canisius before falling in three games to Air Force in the quarterfinals, the Huskies are expected to move up despite the sudden loss of leading scorer Cole Schneider (a school-record 45 points last season) who decided to forgo his final two years of college and sign with Ottawa at the end of last season.
In all, eight players are gone, but a large (literally) and talented rookie class is expected to compensate for the loss of Schneider et al. Coach Bruce Marshall, beginning his 25th season at UConn, brought in 10 players, eight of whom are over 6-feet tall.
“We are definitely on the rise and we feel that this class will help us to continue to make the climb in Atlantic Hockey as we try to get to Rochester,” Marshall said on his school’s website. “We’ve made ourselves deeper and more competitive at every position for Friday and Saturday nights with this incoming group.”
So while there’s plenty of new faces, the constant for the Huskies for three seasons has been goaltender Garrett Bartus. As a junior last season, Bartus made 1,179 saves, tops in the nation. He already has the school record for career saves (2,816) and is tied for the record for wins (35).
Despite the loss of Schneider, the now-junior class at Connecticut is loaded with talent. Brant Harris had 18 goals and 33 points last season, while Billy Latta (28 points) and Jordan Sims (26 points) also made big contributions.
Senior Alex Gerke will lead a defensive corps that returns five regulars.
Among the newcomers up front is Tyler Bouchard, who scored 35 goals in 45 games last season for Springfield of the EJHL.
“He’s a natural goal scorer,” Springfield coach Pat Tabb said on UConn’s website. “He’s got a quick release and an accurate, pinpoint shot. His biggest attribute is to snap the puck off in traffic and he converts nine out of 10 times. I think he’ll be an impact freshman who will challenge for power-play time in his first year.”
“UConn is a scary pick at seventh [in the preseason poll],” Air Force coach Frank Serratore said. “There’s at least eight teams that can win this league and they are definitely one of them.”
About the Huskies
2011-12 overall record: 16-19-4
2011-12 AHA record: 12-12-3 (Eighth)
2012-13 predicted finish (coaches poll): Seventh
Key losses: F Cole Schneider, F Marcello Ranallo, D Brad Cooper
Players to watch: G Garrett Bartus, D Brant Harris, F Billy Latta
Impact rookie: Tyler Bouchard had 66 points in 45 games for Springfield of the EJHL last season, including 35 goals, second in the league.
Why the Huskies will finish higher than the coaches poll: Another strong rookie class should have Connecticut in the running.
Why the Huskies will finish lower than the coaches poll: The loss of Schneider was an unexpected blow, and Bartus has played an awful lot of minutes in his career, which could catch up with him.