Good start brings optimism at Connecticut

Connecticut is off to its best start since 1998, posting just a single loss in its first six games (2-1-3). The Huskies are 2-1-1 in conference, winning at Army and then taking three points from Canisius last weekend at home. Combine that with two come-from behind ties at nationally ranked Maine and Union and coach Bruce Marshall’s team is brimming with confidence.

“It’s a good sample, but a small sample,” Marshall said. “We can’t get too far ahead of ourselves. But we’re excited about coming back in some games and getting some points last weekend.”

The Huskies beat Canisius 3-2 on Friday and then limited the Griffs’ high-powered offense to just a goal in a 1-1 tie on Saturday.

“Last year we might have allowed them to tie things up,” Marshall said about the game on Friday. “And the second night we played really well and found a way to tie a game that we might have lost in the past.”

It’s been a combination of senior leadership, goaltending and some talented newcomers that have resulted in the fast start, according to Marshall.

“We’re a senior-laden team in some aspects,” he said. “And obviously, the freshmen have made a big impact.”

Rookies Cole Schneider and Jordan Sims settled in quick. Sims led the comeback against Union with two goals, and Schneider currently leads the team with three goals and three assists.

Sophomore Garrett Bartus has been the difference in several games already this season. He’s averaging 30 saves a game with a 2.94 goals-against average.

“He made a very difficult transition last year, coming in at Christmas,” Marshall said. “But he made an impact right away. Our players voted him MVP even though he was with us for only half the season. That shows you the respect he has in the locker room.”

UConn’s next test is at Rochester Institute of Technology this weekend.

“It’s a tough place to play, but we’re looking forward to the challenge,” Marshall said. “It’s still early in the season and we have a long way to go, but I like what I’ve seen so far.”

Game of the week

Mercyhurst hosts Army for a pair of games this weekend, and both teams are looking to build off wins last week.

Army defeated Massachusetts last Friday for its second straight win after opening the season with four losses. Mercyhurst got its first of the season at Air Force last Friday. It was a milestone for Lakers coach Rick Gotkin, who recorded his 400th career win.

“When we tied Michigan the first game of the season and won in a shootout, some of the guys thought it counted as a win,” Gotkin said. “It kind of felt like one at the time but now it’s official.”

Gotkin is the only coach Mercyhurst has ever had, and is now 400-276-53 in his 23 years with the Lakers program.

“That number is more of a reflection of our program,” said Gotkin, who rattled off a long list of people that have contributed over the years. “One person doesn’t do that. I’ve been fortunate to be a part of a good program at Mercyhurst. There are fingerprints from a lot of talented players and coaches on this program.”

The Lakers are looking to get into a rhythm now that they have a win under their belts.

“We’ve had a kind of weird start to our schedule,” Gotkin said. “We’ve mostly been playing once a week. So when you’re 0-4-1 you feel like you’re 0-15-1. It will be good to get some back-to-back games.”

Mercyhurst is currently led by rookie Taylor Holstrom, who has three goals and two assists to date. Senior goaltender Ryan Zapolski picked up his first win last week.

Army got goals from five different players last Friday. Sophomore goalie Ryan Leets made 29 saves and got the win in his first career start.

“Army, from what I have seen, looks like a typical Army team,” Gotkin said. “They don’t quit and they play with unbelievable effort.

“The more I see of this league, the more I know that it’s wide open this year. The whole league is getting better and better. And I think we’re all pretty evenly matched. It will be a battle to the bitter end.”

Quote of the week

“We traveled a long way to do nothing. That’s my take on the whole thing. We traveled a lot of miles to get out here and I don’t know if we even played hard for five minutes.” — RIT coach Wayne Wilson after his team gave up three third-period goals and lost 4-3 at Air Force on Sunday.

“If you build it …”

RIT has scheduled a press conference to announce plans to fundraise and build a new on-campus rink. The Tigers, in their sixth season in Division I and coming off a Frozen Four appearance, have outgrown Ritter Arena, capacity 2,100. RIT drew over 10,000 fans to Blue Cross Arena in downtown Rochester earlier this season.

Details have yet to be announced about seating capacity, but it looks like the new rink will hold 5,000-6,000. The challenge for the Tigers — and it will be a difficult one — is to replicate the atmosphere at Ritter, which is one of the loudest, craziest places to see a college hockey game. RIT was 15-2 at home last season and is 51-13-3 there since the start of the 2006-07 season. The Tigers need to bottle that magic and bring it with them to a new home.



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