• UConn Hockey Hub
  • Posts
  • UConn men's hockey's 2023-24 season will always be about what could have been

UConn men's hockey's 2023-24 season will always be about what could have been

The Huskies' offense seemed cursed, but that wasn't their only problem.

Photo: Ian Bethune

UConn men’s hockey’s 2023-24 season — which began with NCAA Tournament hopes — ended where it almost always does: The quarterfinals of the Hockey East Tournament.

From the beginning, the Huskies could never quite figure things out. In the end, they finished multiple games below .500 for the first time since 2018-19 and dropped to their lowest spot in the Hockey East standings (ninth) in five years.

In the most basic of terms, UConn simply couldn’t figure out how to win. The Huskies didn’t sweep a single series and never strung three consecutive wins together. They only won back-to-back contests four times all year.

The most obvious culprit was the team’s inability to score. They found the back of the net just 90 times, or 2.5 goals per game. That ranks seventh out of UConn’s 10 Hockey East seasons — ahead of only the first two campaigns in 2014-15 and 2015-16 as well as the rebuilding year of 2018-19. Those numbers are also boosted by the fact the Huskies netted 13 goals in their last three games — 14.4 percent of their total in just 8.3 percent of their contests.

Before that stretch, UConn had the worst shooting percentage in the nation. The late surge pushed it up to merely sixth-worst at 8.1 percent.

The Huskies didn’t do themselves any favors with their roster-building. They banked on RPI transfer Ryan Mahshie being an impact player as well as development from Matthew Wood, Samu Salminen, and the other sophomore forwards to replace the production lost from Ryan Tverberg and Justin Pearson’s departures.

Mahshie totaled just five points before leaving the team in February. Wood started strong, then went two months where he scored two goals before ending the season on a heater with eight goals in his last five games — half his total on the year.

Only Chase Bradley joined Wood with at least 10 goals. It’s not that UConn’s forwards all played poorly, the team just didn’t have anyone else emerge as a legitimate goal-scoring threat.

The Huskies were also tremendously unlucky. They got shut out on seven occasions — six of which were at home and five of which were at Toscano Family Ice Forum. Before this year, UConn had been shut out eight times in the last five seasons combined.

It’s not as if the program had a massive exodus of talent over the offseason. The puck just stopped going in despite plenty of chances. The Huskies put 1110 shots on net, which ranked 28th out of 64 Division I teams and second-most in the Hockey East Era. They ranked 27th in Corsi at 50.6 percent, which means they held the puck more than their opponents.

A chart of expected goals vs. actual goals scored from early March shows UConn has one of the unluckiest teams in the nation. The Huskies’ roster wasn’t perfect, but they also seemed to be cursed by the hockey gods this season.

Yet while offense might’ve been UConn’s most glaring issue, there were other problems as well.

The Huskies dealt with inconsistency between the pipes at bad times. Arsenii Sergeev fell apart in November and then let in a couple of soft goals in the quarterfinal loss to BC. In the CT Ice final, Ethan Haider gave Quinnipiac two easy goals in the defeat — though that was partially self-inflicted considering he’d struggled in recent games leading up to that.

They also dealt with a rash of mistakes in big moments. At Union in October, UConn tied the game early in the third period but then took a penalty, gave up a power play goal, made a bad turnover at the blue line that led to a breakaway score, and eventually lost 4-1.

The Huskies took Boston College to overtime in November and were just over 30 seconds away from pulling out an impressive tie on the road when Bradley lost the puck behind the net and set up the game-winning goal from Cutter Gauthier.

In January, UConn jumped out to a 2-0 lead over Maine and took it to the visitors for the first two periods. Then the Huskies gave up four goals in the third and lost.

Across the entire year, UConn allowed five shorthanded goals — more than it gave up in total across the previous three seasons.

Something just always seemed to go wrong for the Huskies throughout the course of the year. They never got themselves out of that cycle.

For the first 11 years of head coach Mike Cavanaugh’s tenure, the arrow was almost always pointing up. When UConn did take a step back, it was part of an expected rebuild, such as 2018-19.

Last season, the Huskies looked like they were ahead of schedule by winning 20 games after losing most major contributors from the team that reached the Hockey East finals in 2022. Instead of building on that, they regressed and came in well below their preseason expectations.

Despite all that, UConn still ended up on the fringes of the NCAA Tournament conversation at 24th in Pairwise. The Huskies have proven that they’ve raised their floor.

Now it’s time to work on bumping up the ceiling. Even though UConn has a lot of question marks on its roster entering next season — replacing most of the defensive corps, the uncertainty around Wood and Bradley up top, and not knowing which goaltenders will still be around — it has to get the arrow pointing upwards again.

Seasons like this happen, especially in a sport like hockey. UConn should get the benefit of the doubt once after five straight years with a top-five finish in Hockey East. But next season is crucial. If the Huskies are going to get a pass on what happened in 2023-24, they’ll need to prove that this was an anomaly — not a new normal.