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Weekly Roundup: UConn's opening series a mixed bag for Huskies

Mike Cavanaugh's squad saw highs and lows across the first two games of the season.

Welcome to the first edition of the UConn Hockey Hub newsletter, which you’ll get each week to catch you up on all the stories, trends, and anything else you might have missed, along with some quick takes and leftover notes from the weekend.

UConn splits (sort of) with UMass

What an utterly bizarre weekend.

It seemed like UConn wouldn’t play this weekend after Vermont canceled their opening weekend series, only for the Huskies to be scheduled against UMass a little more than 48 hours before the first puck drop.

UConn got smacked in the opener at Amherst 5-1 — though two late goals from the Minutemen inflated the final score. In the second game, the Huskies mounted a two-goal comeback in the third period to force overtime. UMass thought it scored a sudden-death game-winner in the extra period, only for it to be overturned for too many men on the ice. Finally, Kale Howarth won the first-ever Hockey East shootout for UConn in the fifth round.

Except, the overtime and shootout technically are not counting. Because the two games were scheduled as non-conference contests, the Huskies’ “win” goes down as a tie… for now. UConn is scheduled to play the Minutemen in a conference series on Jan. 7 and 9. If those games are canceled, then the Huskies will get two points in the conference standings for the shootout win. Welcome to college sports during the coronavirus pandemic.

Here’s an overview of our coverage from the weekend.


Friday: UMass 5, UConn 1

Saturday: UConn 2 (2), UMass 2 (1)

Three Stars

Each week, we’ll highlight UConn’s top performers from the weekend.

First Star: Goaltender Tomas Vomacka

UConn’s junior goaltender was phenomenal all weekend long. On Friday night, he kept the Huskies close until the dam finally broke at the end of the game. But without him in net, it would’ve been a lot uglier than 5-1.

On Saturday, Vomacka came up huge on numerous occasions — like stuffing a UMass breakaway in the third period that would’ve put the game away — while also saving 4/5 attempts in the shootout.

Two games aren’t a large enough sample size to make any sweeping conclusions. But UConn needs Vomacka to be great this season and the Czech is off to a phenomenal start.

Second Star: Forward Kale Howarth

Howarth scored UConn’s first goal of the season (the Huskies’ only score on Friday night) and then put home the game-winner in the shootout on Friday night. He seems to have finally unlocked his potential and is playing up to his status as an NHL Draft pick.

Consider this: In the first 56 games of his career, Howarth totaled just eight goals. That meant he found the back of the net once every seven games. But in his last seven games, Howarth has four goals — not including the game-winner in the shootout on Saturday.

Third Star: Forward Brian Rigali

Rigali gets the credit for scoring the shorthanded goal on Saturday to tie the game with 2:00 minute left, but Cassidy Bowes deserves a mention as well. The freshman started the 2v1 break down the ice and fired a tough shot at UMass goaltender Filip Lindberg, which made it difficult to corral. The rebound landed right in the path of Rigali, who buried it.

Added points for the degree of difficulty, as well.

“[The puck] came out pretty hot so it just hit my palm and then I had to get a stick on it at all costs because it wouldn’t have counted obviously if I did not,” Rigali said postgame.

Parting thoughts

  • Raise your hand if you had Cassidy Bowes leading the team in points (0-2—2) after the first weekend. He won the Hockey East Pro Ambitions Rookie of the Week for his efforts, though UConn and UMass were the only two Hockey East teams to play this weekend. Bowes also bears a strong resemblance to Francis from Malcolm in the Middle.

  • In general, I thought all the rookies that played looked good at times over the two games. Nick Capone came close to scoring a couple times on Friday while Artem Shlaine hit the post on the late 5-on-3 Saturday.

  • The only freshman we didn’t see was Gavin Puskar. UConn is loaded with forwards and Puskar is coming straight from the prep level (as opposed to juniors), so the learning curve is probably a little steeper for him.When he committed back in April, I was told that he needed to build his strength for the collegiate game. With summer workouts canceled and a “fractured” preseason, as Cavanaugh put it, there probably hasn’t been much consistency in the Huskies’ strength and conditioning program to this point.

  • The other inactives were John Wojciechowski, Carter Berger, Matt Pasquale, Eric Linell (Friday) and John Spetz (Saturday). Berger missed both games with a non-COVID illness while Spetz suffered an unknown injury on Friday night.It was disappointing not to see Berger. He seemed to be coming on towards the end of last season and could be UConn’s most dynamic defensemen. Hopefully, Spetz’s injury isn’t serious. He didn’t look like a freshman at all on Friday night and was arguably the Huskies’ best d-man.The other three healthy scratches weren’t a huge surprise. Wojciechowski has only been active for three games in his career, though the line sheets listed him as a defenseman instead of a forward, so maybe he’s switching positions to try and break into the lineup. Pasquale is clearly fourth on the depth chart behind Vomacka, Bradley Stone, and Ryan Keane, though it’s hard to know who of the latter two is the backup. Linell has yet to record a point in 15 appearances, so it’s hard to see him get playing time if the whole team is healthy.

  • I’m not a huge fan of the new overtime rules. The 3v3 feels a little like pond hockey — and not in a good way. Also, why do we need to decide games by a shootout? That feels way more arbitrary than just awarding both teams one point for a tie.

  • I didn’t realize that UConn-UMass was the only men’s Hockey East series to play this weekend. Not a great start for the conference.

  • This upcoming weekend with Maine is big. UConn just experienced what it’s like to play a superior team with more preparation and it needs to use that same advantage against the Black Bears.With Jeremy Swayman gone and both games at Freitas Ice Forum, the Huskies really should be walking away with all six points.

Looking ahead

Keep an eye out for the first UConn Hockey Hub Podcast and a Film Room breakdown this week on Patreon.

The Huskies return to the ice Friday at 6 p.m. followed by a 4 p.m. puck drop on Saturday. Both games are in Storrs against Maine.