A Look at What's to Come
Hockey East-bound UConn Falls to Rival UMass
by Nick Canelas/CHN Reporter
AMHERST, Mass. Friday's game against Massachusetts at the Mullins Center was no ordinary non-conference affair for Connecticut. It was a preview of what's to come.
The Huskies accepted an invitation to join Hockey East in 2014-15 as part of the conference's expansion to 12 teams with Notre Dame joining next season. UConn will continue to play the next two seasons in Atlantic Hockey, but Friday's 4-1 loss to UMass gave the team an idea of what kind of the competition to expect in two years.
"We got to take out what we (learned) out of here," UConn coach Bruce Marshall said. "I think down the road it will be a fun game and a meaningful game."
The Huskies will have another non-conference test against another Hockey East opponent in Merrimack Nov. 10. The Warriors serving as an example of what UConn can accomplish. The Minutemen have not quite been that same caliber of competition, however, with losing seasons in four of the past five years.
UConn was outshot by UMass, 39-25, but did get a strong effort from senior goaltender Garrett Bartus, who made 35 saves in the loss. While it appeared UConn was outplayed by the Minutemen, Marshall believes his team simply beat itself and struggled with focus, especially with 14 penalties and 28 penalty minutes.
"I think we shot ourselves in the foot pretty darn good (Friday), which will be a good learning experience as we go forward the next couple of months," Marshall said.
The Huskies have shown that they can skate with Hockey East opponents, however, beating Massachusetts-Lowell in one of two affairs between the teams a year ago.
What could potentially serve as a positive for UConn as it looks ahead to that eventual transition to Hockey East is the youth of the current team. The Huskies played seven freshmen and 11 underclassmen total, including freshman Tyler Helton who scored UConn's lone goal in the contest on a power play at 11 minutes, 56 seconds of the first period. Sophomore Cody Sharib assisted on the goal.
UConn's youth revealed itself throughout its rotation, with freshman Patrick Kirkland on the left wing in the first line with juniors Jordan Sims and Brant Harris. Both the third and fourth lines featured all underclassmen, including a fourth line of freshmen Joey Ferriss, Shawn Pauly and Joe Birmingham. With the exception of seniors Alex Gerke and Tom Janosz, the rest of the Huskies' defensive pairings consisted of freshmen and sophomores.
Marshall saw this experience as one that is especially beneficial for the freshmen down the road
"There were a lot of freshmen in the lineup as you could see, and they're going to see what this atmosphere is like and what you have to do to compete at this level. So I think that's something they can build on for the future because they'll probably be in for two years as well," he said.
Marshall also said that he felt his team, underclassmen included, stacked up well with a future conference foe. These non-conference battles within the Hockey East also create an opportunity to establish rivalries as UConn moves toward this transition. And with 26 penalties and 52 penalties between the two teams, it appears both sides are welcoming a future in-conference rivalry on the ice.
"Obviously you got rivalries with everyone in Hockey East," first-year UMass coach John Micheletto said after gathering his first win as a head coach Friday. "So I would expect (UMass and UConn) to continue to be a good rivalry."
The Huskies did hang around with UMass for a majority of the contest, trailing the Minutemen 2-1 heading into the third period. But a pair of early UMass goals and the inability to stay out of the penalty box that killed any chance at gaining momentum and eventually put the game out of reach.
"I think it started in the beginning of the game," Marshall said. "We got off our game and wore ourselves down. Those two (third period) goals were nice goals (by Steven Guzzo at 1:53 and Darren Rowe at 7:26), but we could've stopped those from happening if we didn't get ourselves out of focus like we did."
Looking at the current team, UConn fields a majority of its starters from last season, including five of its top six scorers. That one exception comes from leading scorer Cole Schneider, who left following his sophomore season to sign a professional contract with the Ottawa Senators organization. Schneider set the school's single season goal-scoring record with 23 goals for a total of 45 points and scored more points in his first two seasons than any other sophomore in UConn's history in Division I.
While Schneider's void is clearly a significant one to fill, the Huskies are still left with some talent to use with juniors Harris (33 points) and Billy Latta (28) leading returners along with senior captain Sean Ambrosie (27). UConn's most experience comes in net with Bartus leading the way between the pipes. Bartus started 39 games last season, posting a 2.55 goals against average and a .923 save percentage.
And while the thought of moving up to one of college hockey's best conferences is a nice thought for Marshall, he looks more toward using non-conference games against Hockey East opponents as a chance for his current team to be challenged and improve as a whole.
"That's two years down the road, we got 33 other hockey games that we need to focus on," Marshall said. "I mean, it is a meaningful game obviously, but we were just trying to put ourselves in position to have a strong season."