Fourteen sophomores and five freshmen make up the bulk of Connecticut’s ever-developing women’s hockey program. There are two juniors as well, and naturally, with no seniors, they’re both captains. Such are the circumstances Heather Linstad faces in her third year as UConn head coach, her second with a full recruiting class.
“I wouldn’t have taken on the job if I didn’t want the challenge of it,” said Linstad.
Faced with the challenge of recruiting without an established name or tradition, Linstad delivered a class last year which carried the team to upset victories over some of the biggest names in college hockey, namely New Hampshire and her former employer Northeastern. UConn also posted a 2-0-1 record over Boston College.
Connecticut’s biggest need for improvement is on the offensive end, where sophomore Kimberly Berry had a fine rookie campaign with 23 goals and 12 assists, but only one other player cracked double-digits in goals.
“We only had one key scorer last year,” Linstad said. “We need two, three, four kids to step up and help us out in that regard.”
Linstad expects that the improvement will come primarily from the sophomore class, where several players didn’t do as well as they had hoped in their opening seasons.
Improvement has been the defining characteristic of Linstad’s first full class from the get-go. In the 2001-02 team’s debut, the Huskies were pounded 10-1 by Wisconsin. The next day, a 1-1 tie was the result.
UConn, with Shannon Murphy earning the majority of the starts, rarely allowed more than four goals all season.
The main impetus for improvement, with another class of recruits coming in, will be the intrasquad competition that naturally results. Linstad also expects that with the new depth from the recruits, her squad will vastly improve its special teams, which ranked near the bottom of the league last season.
One advantage UConn players have over any other school in the Hockey East is that they’ve been forced to become leaders at a young age by necessity. Linstad hopes that will help the team down the road.
“I think being around players that are starting something brand new is a fun thing,” she said. “They are the pioneers of this program and they’ve put their names on it.”