Return of capable core has Connecticut eyeing a move up standings

The Connecticut Huskies are coming off a breakthrough season that saw them advance to the Atlantic Hockey semifinals for the first time in five years.

Coach Bruce Marshall said now that his team, which returns a strong nucleus from last season, including eight of its top 10 scorers, has gotten a taste of winning, it’s time to take the next step.

“We definitely want to keep it going and change the things that need changing for us to do even better,” he said. “With success comes responsibility. We can’t think it’s going to be automatic.”

Last season’s success was unexpected as a strong freshman class contributed to an offense that averaged more than a goal a game better than the previous season. Leading the way were Cole Schneider (33 points last season) and Billy Latta (26). In all, freshmen contributed 121 points.

“[The rookies last year] played without expectations,” said Marshall. “This year will be different.”

Who are the leaders on this young team?

“Leaders emerge,” he said. “As a coaching staff we’ve been having those discussions. Corey Jendras has really emerged. He persevered though a lot last season. [Sean] Ambrosie has been getting better every year. He had a strong rookie season and was even better last year. He and guys like Marcello Ranallo have more responsibility on them.”

The Huskies have had strong goaltending for several seasons, and junior Garrett Bartus is no exception. He joined the team midway though his freshman year and played in all but two games last season.

“Garrett has proven that he can get the job done, but we also have [junior] Matt Grogan, who came in several times last season and played really well. He can shut teams down.”

UConn again welcomes a large rookie class that includes several junior league all-stars.

“We really like our incoming class,” said Marshall. “We expect them to make contributions right away.”

If this class fares as well as last year’s rookies, the Huskies will be in the hunt again.

About the Huskies

2010-11 overall record: 15-18-4

2010-11 AHA record: 13-12-2 (sixth)

2011-12 predicted finish (coaches poll): Fifth

Key losses: Andrew Olson (F)

Players to watch: Cole Schneider (so., F), Sean Ambrosie (jr., F), Billy Latta (so., F), Garrett Bartus (jr., G)

Impact rookie: Cody Sharib, who posted 50 points in 44 games last year in juniors.

Why the Huskies will finish higher than the coaches poll: Another great rookie class will mean that the Huskies improve on their fifth-place finish.

Why the Huskies will finish lower than the coaches poll: A sophomore slump could mean trouble for a team that will rely on that class to repeat its success.