Update January 30: The men’s ice hockey team swept its weekend series against Holy Cross with a 3-1 win in Storrs on Friday and a 3-0 victory in Worcester, Mass., on Saturday, improving its record to 12-12-2 overall and 11-8-1 in the Atlantic Hockey conference. Junior goaltender Garrett Bartus ’13 (CLAS) broke the UConn Division I career saves record, recording his 2,432nd save in a Connecticut uniform.
By making it to the semifinals of last season’s Atlantic Hockey semifinals and opening the 2011-2012 season with a 4-2-1 start, the men’s ice hockey team was gaining confidence as conference play was about to begin.
However, starting conference play against the top teams in the league resulted in a rough few weeks for head coach Bruce Marshall’s young Huskies, who found stability after the holiday break in late December, winning six of their last nine games and positioning themselves for a stretch run to the AHA Tournament in March. The Huskies’ record is 10-12-2 overall and 9-8-1 in the conference.
“We’re still a relatively young group. We had a lot of success last year at the end and maybe that gave us a little false identity in the beginning,” says Marshall ’85 (ED). “After coming back from Christmas break, we’ve kind of settled down and realized we kind of have to do it all together. It wasn’t like the effort wasn’t there. We have to stay within the process, within the structure [of our game plan] and then let that dictate. Every now and then, you need that individual to step up and get that goal or make the big save. That’s kind of where we’ve evolved to.”
The Huskies have generated increasing offensive strength from the first line of the sophomore trio of left wing Cole Schneider ’13 (CANR), 12 goals, 14 assists; center Jordan Sims ’14 (CLAS), 6/13; and right wing Billy Latta ’14 (CLAS), 7/15, who together piled up 39 points in an 11 game stretch.
“They play well together,” Marshall says. “Billy sees guys very well, Jordan is a good two-way center hockey player, and Cole has the knack to drive down and score from outside the top of the circle. We don’t get a lot of goals from outside the top of the circle, but he’s been able to do that.”
The line has also improved the Huskies’ efforts on power plays – when the opponent has a player in the penalty box – with junior forward Sean Ambrosie ’13 (BUS), Latta, and Schneider among the leaders in conference power play points.
“It feels good to have confidence in a line like that,” says Ambrosie, the team captain. “They can score two goals on a shift or three goals in a period. … Our third and fourth lines have been playing well, too.”
On defense, junior goalkeeper Garrett Bartus ’13 (CLAS) is second in the conference in saves with 738, in part a reflection that he has played most of the minutes in goal this year. He doesn’t mind staying so busy.
“I almost like it better. It keeps you in the game, keeps your mind from wandering, keeps you in the game, focused, and keeps you on top of your game,” he says.
It also means that Bartus is active in talking with Husky defensemen, so everyone knows where the puck is and can help him.
“We’re always talking with each other on every play,” he says. “I trust my D to tell me what’s going on. It’s like an extra set of eyes. I’ve got a lot of confidence with them.”
Marshall says the early season schedule – which had the Huskies playing 11 of its first 15 games on the road to games in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Colorado – should help the team as it moves through the balance of the regular season, when more games are at Mark Edward Freitas Ice Forum and the remaining road trips are within an hour of Storrs.
“You’ve got to learn how to win on the road,” says Marshall. “I think it makes you stronger, it makes you tougher. What helps us in the second half of the year is most everything is an hour bus trip. It’s close and it’s home and away.
“If you look at the [conference] standings, there’s not a lot points that separate teams in the middle,” he adds. “You could have a sweep, and next week you could be in third and the following week you could be in sixth, and there’s not that much separating you. Every game is huge points.”
Ambrosie says he is confident the team is making continued progress during the season.
“It’s been a roller coaster season. It’s the first time I’ve been captain in my life, but it’s pretty easy being a leader on a team like this, with most of the guys on the same page,” he says. “We’re still young, still learning, and I think we’ve got a lot to look forward to over the rest of the season.”
Senior defenseman Brad Cooper ’12 (CLAS) says the Huskies are working to keep taking “the little details of every day and translating them from practice to the game,” which he hopes will continue to bring crowds to support the team at Freitas Ice Forum.
“It’s great when people from the community and students and the band support us. It’s nice to play in front of a big crowd,” Cooper says. “We’ve been playing pretty well at home. As long as we continue to play, hopefully the crowds will get bigger. For younger kids – it means a lot. We were all there at one point, looking up to older guys at your rink, or college guys or professional guys. Even the interaction we have with the local teams and kids with Skate with the Huskies and the other community service. I think it’s good for them and us to realize where they can go, and how lucky we are to have the opportunities we have here at the University of Connecticut.”
The Huskies’ upcoming home games include Holy Cross on Jan. 27, Army on Feb. 7, Sacred Heart on Feb. 11, Bentley on Feb. 17, and American International on Feb. 25.