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Success and Influence: UConn Hockey’s 2014 Senior Class

 

Friday night will mark the final regular season home game for a group of UConn seniors whose combination of personal success and group influence is unrivaled in the history of Husky hockey. Billy Latta, Brant Harris, Jordan Sims and Matt Grogan have helped carry Connecticut to unprecedented levels of success through hard work, leadership and skill. The four young men have overseen and cultivated a culture change that has laid the foundation for a successful transition into the program’s next chapter while etching their names into history as the most successful graduating class to date.

Billy Latta has acted as the heart and soul of UConn hockey since his arrival in Storrs four years ago. “I remember during his sophomore year we were going through a rough stretch and Billy was the one who stepped up, brought everyone together and held guys accountable. He cares the most about this team, puts his heart and soul into the team every day,” Cody Sharib said.

“Billy is the definition of a captain, he eats and sleeps UConn hockey,” Tyler Bouchard said. Spending two years with a letter stitched to his jersey, Latta has been an integral part of creating a winning culture on a foundation of accountability and respect. “Billy is not a typical upperclassmen,” sophomore Kyle Huson said, “He didn’t treat the freshman any differently, he respected us right away.”

Coming into action Friday, Latta sits six points away from crossing 100 in his career, an indicator of the offensive skill and work ethic Latta possess. “Billy has great skill, he one-times the puck as well as anyone on our team and can create his own shot,” Head Coach Mike Cavanaugh said of his captain.

“Billy’s a deceptively good passer, he finds seams in little areas, and he gets good shots and has a great one timer. He’s just a natural goal scorer,” Bouchard said.

“The speed he processes the game at and the skill he has is the best on the team,” Sharib said.

Even with all the offensive skill, Billy set out to improve his defensive responsibility this year, something that hasn’t gone unnoticed. “He committed to his defense this year and he’s one of our team leaders in blocked shots,” Coach Cavanaugh said. “Anything we’ve asked him to do has been done, that’s been essential to our success.”

Latta’s off ice personality differs greatly from is game time demeanor, as house-mate Cody Sharib knows well. “I thought he was the most serious guy until I started living with him,” Sharib said. “He’s a goofball, he likes to have a good time. He’s a good guy and fun to be around,” Brant Harris said.

UConn Senior Billy Latta (UConn Athletics/Steve Slade)

Upon reflecting on his career at UConn, Latta is grateful for the opportunities that have been available to him. “We always got a fair chance, we earned the positions we were put in and made sure we led and got better,” Latta said. “I’m going to miss the relationships and the thrill of being in a locker room with 30 brothers. It’s pretty unique because you have a special relationship with each guy.”

Brant Harris will likely leave UConn as the most dominant four year player to ever pull on a Husky sweater. Sitting just one point shy of tying the Division 1 career scoring record heading into Friday night, Harris has consistently been one of Connecticut’s most effective offensive threats.

“Brant is your typical power forward. He skates well, shoots well and stays strong on the puck,” Coach Cavanaugh said.

“Brant has the ideal hockey body and he has learned how to use his body the right way” Tyler Bouchard said.

“He’s embraced that role of a power forward, he’s found his niche and has become successful in the dirty areas,” Latta said.

“He’s got good speed for his size and you know when he hits you.” “Since I’ve played here, he’s been in the best shape out of anyone,” Cody Sharib said. “He gives 110%, doesn’t take any shifts off and is the most aggressive guy on our team.”

Harris accompanies Billy Latta in wearing a “C” on his jersey, but has a different leadership style. “We have our own ways of leading, when one of us is down the other guy is always there to pick us back up. We know each other really well and I think that is what has made us a successful group of leaders,” Latta said.

“Harry leads by his play, he’s aggressive and he works harder than anyone,” Joey Ferris said of his captain.

“He’s a guy anyone on the team can talk to. He never isolated anyone and he’s always respectful,” Bouchard said.

UConn Senior Brant Harris (UConn Athletics/Steve Slade)

Harris’ professionalism and work ethic has been appreciated by his coaching staff as well as his teammates. “When Brant started this year injured, it was the first time he had really been hurt and he handled it like a pro,” Coach Cavanaugh said. “He didn’t sulk, he just did what needed to be done and now you’re starting to really see the player he is.”

Harris says he’ll miss his teammates upon graduation and the relationships that he’s built with them. “I’m going to miss the boys, just having everyone around, you can’t take that for granted.”

Jordan Sims will graduate UConn as one of the most productive centermen in UConn history. Sitting just seven assists away from tying former teammate for the all-time Division 1 mark, Sims has already crossed the 100 point plateau in his career. Still, Sims has been as effective in the offensive zone as he has been in his defensive end as well.

“There’s not just one aspect of his game that stands out,” Tyler Bouchard said. “He has elements of every piece of the game. He’s worked really hard of faceoffs, he’s great in all three zones. He’s the type of guy you can see playing after college because of how well rounded his game is.” “Jordan has underrated skill. He sees the ice well, skates well and is great defensively,” Joey Ferris said.

“Jordan is a smart defensive center, he talks with the defensemen and is always in the right position. It gives us confidence to stay within our system because we know we won’t have to compensate,” Kyle Huson said. Coach Cavanaugh has seen Sims’ game improve this year as well.

“Jordan is a great center, he’s got great speed, vision and hockey sense. His strength on the puck has improved along with his ability to win one on one battles below the goal line.”

“Jordan brings consistency. He’s a quiet leader on the ice, he’s our strongest center as a defensive cover guy,” Cody Sharib said. “Sims is great at being low and strong in the defensive zone, he gets open as an outlet in the defensive and neutral zone. He’s not the most vocal guy, but game to game he is probably our most consistent player,” Jacob Poe said.

While quiet on the ice and in the locker room, Sims opens up a little when away from the rink.

“He’s a goofball. He’s always energetic, makes guys smile and brings that energy whenever he’s around,” Sharib said. “He’s really talkative away from the rink,” Brant Harris

UConn Senior Jordan Sims (UConn Athletics/Steve Slade)

said. “Once he gets going you can’t stop him.”

Sims ability to produce offensively at a high end level with his defensive game has made him into a special player, one that UConn will have trouble replicating. Sims assets to UConn have been unique, but his competitiveness might be what has truly set him apart. “Jordan hates losing more than anyone else,” Tyler Bouchard said.

Matt Grogan has faced his fair share of adversity as a Husky and has emerged as a respected leader and a dominant goaltender for UConn.

“Matt gives the defense a lot of confidence because we know he’s going to make the stops. We don’t stray from our systems to make up for anything,” Kyle Huson said.

“He keeps our confidence up, he communicates really well with the defense, it’s like having a sixth skater out there,” defensemen Kevin Tuohy said.

“One thing about Grogs is that he’ll never blame anyone for a goal, even if it was your mistake. He’s not a guy that will yell at you. He’s quiet, positive and just goes about his business. When he does speak though, he’s one of the most respected guys on the team.”

That respect comes from the way Matt has handled himself throughout his career in a Husky uniform. His professionalism and demeanor have made him a special player. “Matt’s demeanor is his greatest asset. He’s calm, he has quick legs, covers the crease well and he’s fundamentally sound,” Coach Cavanaugh said.

“Matt is the ultimate teammate,” Billy Latta said. “It’s not easy to sit and watch someone play your position, but he’s never balked at the idea of that. He just continues to work and he took advantage of his opportunity.”

“Matt has just stayed consistent in the way he works. Whether he’s been a backup or a starter, his work ethic has never changed,” Jacob Poe said.

UConn Senior Matt Grogan (UConn Athletics/Steve Slade)

Freshman Robby Nichols has been a competitor with Grogan for the starting job this year, but also a student to the way Grogan plays the game. “I try to follow in his footsteps,” Nichols said. “He has a controlled playing style, which is something that I needed to work on. I watch him and adapt my game towards his.”

“Grogs is the most unique guy on the team. His attitude hasn’t changed and I can’t say many other guys would be like that. He’s mostly a quiet guy, but when he does speak it’s usually pretty good,” classmate Brant Harris said.

Grogan’s greatest improvement this year has been his ability to read the play and anticipate in certain situations, according to Coach Cavanaugh. When all is said and done for the fifth year senior, Grogan wants to be remembered in a simple way. “I just tried to do the right thing and lead by example. I don’t try to stand out too much, I just try to take care of my own stuff,” Grogan said.

This class of four seniors has helped elevate UConn to a championship caliber team and is still in pursuit of that ultimate goal.

“I want to remember this class as the first one to win an Atlantic Hockey championship. This has never been a throw away year, winning a championship sets an example and gets the ball rolling for the future,” Coach Cavanaugh said.

The culture that this group has helped create has been essential to getting to this point, something Coach Cavanaugh doesn’t take for granted. “As a team that battled so deep into the playoffs last year, they believed they could compete and that’s half the battle. It was a luxury to have that in this team.”

Fellow Huskies agree on the impact this class has had.

“They brought us into more of a serious program. They are collectively our best class in history. It’s amazing what they’ve done for this program,” Cody Sharib said.

“They brought a sense of seriousness and a winning attitude. They made us believe that we were capable of beating any team in the country,” Chris Bond said.

“They’ve had a tremendous influence. A lot of leadership and skill. We’ve been through a lot of tough times and they’ve kept us grounded and focused on the goals we want to achieve,” Kyle Huson said.

“I just hope we put the program in a good spot from the first day we were here to the last day. I honestly think that by the time we leave the program, it will be in a better place than when we got here and that’s a special thing,” Latta said.

The most dominant class in UConn history has left a legacy of improvement, leadership, work ethic and commitment to the team that will continue to last for years to come. As UConn Hockey continues to grow, players such as Billy Latta, Brant Harris, Jordan Sims and Matt Grogan will continue to be at the foundation of what has made Husky hockey successful.

Shark Week: Brant Harris at San Jose Development Camp

There’s bad news for UConn opponents.

Brant Harris is getting better.

Over his three-year career, the Husky senior has established himself as a top scorer, leader, defensive presence and physical force for his team.  Harris is the highest returning point scorer from last year’s team, thanks to a dominant second half when he posted 29 points in 24 games en route to the Atlantic Hockey Semifinals. For a second consecutive summer, the team captain was able to improve his game during an NHL development camp, spending a week in July with the San Jose Sharks.

UConn’s Brant Harris (left) spent a week this summer the San Jose Sharks Development Camp (Steve Slade/UConn Athletics)

After the conclusion of UConn’s 2012-13 campaign in late March, the Sharks extended an invitation to Harris to attend their summer camp

Since Harris did his best in-season to simply stay focused on his game, the invitation came as a bit of a surprise. “I knew head scouts of a few different teams were coming to watch me, but I didn’t want to pay too much attention to it,” he said. “I wanted to stay focused on what I had to do, especially in the playoffs.”

The match between San Jose and Harris was an excellent one.

“San Jose has a reputation for being really good at developing college players,” Harris said. Living proof of that development is Harris’ fellow countryman Rylan Schwartz, who signed with San Jose last April after leading the NCAA in scoring over his senior season at Colorado College. “I played against Rylan in junior hockey. We’re both from Saskatchewan actually, he lived about two hours from where I did,” said Harris.

Upon arriving one day before the camp started Harris began living with Dylan DeMelo, a sixth-round pick of the Sharks in 2011. DeMelo had just finished his final season with the Sharks minor league club in Worcester, Mass.

Unlike his previous camp experience in Washington, Harris spent less time engaged in scrimmages and more minutes on honing individual skills. The only scrimmage of the week came on Thursday, when Harris spent time on the first line alongside AHLers like Schwartz and fifth-round selection Freddie Hamilton. Despite being constantly surrounded by outstanding talent, Harris stayed focused on improving his own game. “I tried not to think about who I was playing against, I just wanted to focus on me and how I could get better,” Harris said.

Coaches throughout the Sharks organization led the camp, from the NHL level down to the ECHL.

“I talked with the coaches throughout the week,” Harris explained. “They were all very approachable. We talked about what they liked in my game and what they would like to see me tweak. They liked that I was light on my feet, how I controlled the puck down low. I felt I stuck out for a guy who wasn’t all that highly touted coming in.

“We focused on keeping my knees bent so I don’t lose power when I’m skating or making a move to the net. Staying in a low, athletic position in order to jump into a hole or make a move more quickly,”

At the end of the week, Harris left not only with improved physical skill, but a more well-rounded perspective. “I learned a lot about what I need to improve personally and about things in the game that you don’t necessarily look for or think about.”

Towards the end of the week, the Husky star was able to meet a few of the current Sharks players including Patrick Marleau, Brent Burns and Joe Thornton. “I still got a little star-struck. You don’t see those guys a lot, you have to take a step back and appreciate it,” Harris recalled.

The final meeting with the Sharks staff went well for Harris, as the Sharks staff lauded his speed, shot and ability to work down low and in corners. While Harris’ experience at Sharks camp differed from his time with the Capitals, there were valuable lessons in both formats. “I wouldn’t say one was better than the other. In Washington we spent a lot more time scrimmaging, in San Jose it was slower, more individualized, ” Harris remarked.

As Harris prepares to lead the Huskies in his final year in a UConn jersey, he now carries the lessons of two NHL camps with him.

 

UConn Hockey’s 2013-14 Schedule Per Atlantic Hockey Website

Atlantic Hockey has posted schedules for all members, including the University of Connecticut. UConn’s 2013-14 Schedule has been pulled from there. You can view the full schedule here.

All times Eastern. October 12th exhibition opponent to be determined. The UConn Holiday Classic will not be held on campus. A venue has not been decided on at this point.

 

University of Connecticut 2013-14 Schedule

October 12th, TBA

October 18th, @ Minnesota State 8:05

October 19th @ Minnesota State 8:05

October 25th vs. Union 7:05

November 1st vs. Army 7:05

November 2nd vs. Army 7:05

November 12th vs. Holy Cross 7:05

November 15th vs. Bentley 7:05

November 17th @ Boston University 7:05

November 23rd @ AIC 7:05

November 29th @ Canisius 7:05

November 30th @ Canisius 7:05

December 6th vs. Niagara 7:05

December 7th vs. Niagara 7:00

December 29th vs. Sacred Heart * 7:05

*UConn Holiday Classic

December 30th vs. Quinnipiac or UMass * TBA

*UConn Holiday Classic

January 3rd vs. RIT 7:05

January 4th vs. RIT 7:05

January 9th vs. Robert Morris 7:05

January 10th vs. Robert Morris 7:05

January 17th @ Mercyhurst 7:05

January 18th @ Mercyhurst 7:05

January 24th @ AIC 7:05

January 25th vs. AIC 7:05

January 31st @ Air Force 9:05

February 1st @ Air Force 9:05

February 7th vs. Bentley 7:05

February 8th @ Bentley 7:05

February 11th @ Providence College 7:00

February 14th vs. Holy Cross 7:05

February 15th @ Holy Cross 7:05

February 21st vs. Army 7:05

February 22nd @ Army 7:05

February 28th @ Sacred Heart 7:05

March 1st @ Sacred Heart 5:05

 

 

A Brief Chat with UConn commit Ryan Segalla

UConn commitment Ryan Segalla spoke briefly about the upcoming NHL Draft, his decision to come to UConn and more.

Segalla, who is set to join the team in the fall of 2013, was the first player to verbally commit to UConn as a full scholarship player. On Sunday, June 30th Segalla may make history again, becoming the first UConn player to be selected in the NHL Entry Draft.*Segalla plans on being at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on Sunday with his parents, but has no expectations of where he will be drafted. Segalla was ranked 169thin the NHL Central Scouting Final Rankings among North American skaters. From the beginning of this past season at Salisbury Prep, Segalla has met with 9 different NHL teams. “Some teams I met with one scout for a few minutes. Other teams had a 2 hour process with more than one scout,” Segalla said.

Ryan Segalla is set to join UConn for the 2013-14 season. (Photo Credit: UConn Athletics)

Segalla is set to join eight other freshmen under first year head coach Mike Cavanaugh, who convinced Segalla to join the Huskies for this season, instead of waiting until the fall of 2014. “Coach Cavanaugh called about two weeks ago and explained all the positives of joining a year early. There really weren’t any negatives,” Segalla said.

Segalla wasn’t quite sure what to expect with the coaching change at UConn, but remained committed to being a Husky. “At first I was a little hesitant because of the new coach, but I wanted to be loyal to the school,” Segalla said. “They offered me a scholarship and I wanted to honor that. Coach Cavanaugh called me and nothing has really changed.”

With the opportunity to become the first Husky taken in the entry draft, Segalla remains focused on UConn. “It would be an honor to be drafted. I’m looking forward to building the program at UConn and hoping for the best,” Segalla said. Segalla already has a tie to the Huskies, as he was the defensive partner of Tyler Cooke, a current Husky defenseman, during his freshman year of high school when the two played for the Bridgewater Bandits.

To give Husky fans a taste of what they’ll see from the freshman rearguard this fall, Segalla offered some thoughts on how he would define his style of play. “I think I’m a two-way defenseman. I take pride in my own zone and I like to move pucks up to the forwards to let them do their thing. I like to join the rush and I can play with a mean streak, but overall I’d say a two-way defenseman,” said Segalla.

With a visit planned for mid-July to meet with the coaching staff and get fitted for equipment, Segalla is excited to get to Storrs. “I’m excited for the overall college experience and to meet all of the guys,” Segalla said.

 

 

*Todd Krygier was selected in the NHL Supplemental Draft, not the NHL Entry Draft.

UConn Hockey’s 2013-14 Schedule

UConn Hockey’s 2013-14 Schedule

As this is not an official UConn release, games and times are not official yet. However, this is what the schedule is expected to be.

October

18 at Minnesota State

19 at Minnesota State

25 vs. Union

November 

1  vs. Army

2 vs. Sacred Heart

9 at Providence

15 vs. Bentley

17 at Boston University

23 at AIC

29 at Canisius

30 at Canisius

December 

6 vs. Niagara

7 vs. Niagara

14 vs. Holy Cross

UConn Hockey Classic

29 vs. Sacred Heart

30 vs. Winner of Quinnipiac vs. UMass

January 

3 vs. RIT

4 vs. RIT

10 vs. Robert Morris

11 vs. Robert Morris

17 at Merchyhurst

18 at Mercyhurst

24 at AIC

25 vs. AIC

31 at Air Force

February 

1 at Air Force

7 vs. Bentley

8 at Bentley

14 vs. Holy Cross

15 at Holy Cross

21 vs. Army

22 at Army

28 at Sacred Heart

March

1 at Sacred Heart

 

UConn Head Coach Interviews Have Concluded

The interview process for the head coaching position at UConn has concluded. UConn interim head coach David Berard, Boston College assistant coach Mike Cavanaugh and former Denver University head coach George Gwozdecky went through the interview process. There have been no negotiations, no offer and no decision that has been made regarding the position. There will be no more interviews conducted.

Success Through Adversity: UConn Hockey’s 2012-13 Season (Updated)

The most successful season in UConn Hockey history came during the most trying year the program had ever faced. Fresh off the announcement that their program would join Hockey East in two years; the Huskies faced elevated expectations under a widening spotlight. Since the 2008-2009 season, the Huskies had never retained the same coaching staff, until David Berard and Rich McKenna returned for the start of the 2012-13 campaign. With a full offseason to work with, Berard and McKenna set about bringing in their first incoming class. “I spoke the majority of the time with Coach Berard,” freshman defenseman Chris Bond said. “He talked about the changing culture. They were trying to bring in kids who would mold into that culture. The family and winning aspects were what I was looking for; I loved the school right away.”

The Huskies were trending upwards, as evidenced by the recently departed Cole Schneider, who had signed at the end of the year with the NHL’s Ottawa Senators. “They used Cole to show the direction of the program,” standout freshman Kyle Huson recalled. “They wanted impact guys who could build for the future. It was very attractive to be able to come in and play as a freshman.”

Schneider was one of ten Huskies who would not return to the team for the start of the 2012-13 season; their spots replaced by the ten man freshman class. The Huskies were set to continue their improvement, but success would not come easily to start.

Things started differently for UConn, even before the team set foot on the ice. Each member arrived in early July, a month before they had normally arrived in years past, one of the changes imposed by the coaching staff. The extra time was beneficial to both freshman as well as veterans, including senior Captain Sean Ambrosie. “We got to know everyone, get a feel for each other,” Ambrosie said. “We gelled earlier and I think that helped us out later on.”

The early start was beneficial for the incoming freshman as well. “It was huge to get here. A lot of us hadn’t taken classes in 2-3 years,” Kyle Huson said. “To get in the weight room, on the same workout routine and build team chemistry was huge.”

After a tumultuous offseason, Ambrosie felt much more comfortable in his second year as team captain, helped in part by the addition of Alex Gerke to the captaincy role. “We tried to set a good example, put the time and work in. We tried to have some fun when we weren’t in school too,” Ambrosie said.

UConn Interim Head Coach David Berard (Steve Slade ’89 (SFA) for UConn)

High expectations were set by the returning Huskies as well as the coaching staff, targeting team success as well as individual growth. “We knew we would be a good team. We had a good class coming in, so expectations were high,” sophomore winger Trevor Gerling said. Gerling was one of the Huskies set to explode onto the scene, part of the seven returning Huskies who would record career high point totals this season. “I wanted to be more responsible in our defensive zone and contribute more offensively,” said Gerling, who scored the second-most goals on the team this year. “We improved in our defensive zone and it allowed us to spend more time in the offensive zone and on the forecheck.”

The UConn season got off to a rocky start, as the Huskies went winless through their first five games, the only bright spot a being a tie against #8 Union in their home opener. After a 3-0 defeat on November 2nd at Niagara University, the Huskies had a team meeting with the coaching staff to figure out the direction the team was headed. “I think the first meeting we had was because we weren’t being responsible off the ice individually. We weren’t doing what we had to do to win hockey games,” Ambrosie recalls.

With a young team, the UConn staff was tasked with helping a number of rookies adjust to the college level. One of those was Skyler Smutek, a sophomore defenseman who had not been allowed to play the previous season due to an eligibility issue. “It was like re-learning how to play the position again,” Smutek said. “I had to compete and battle in the defensive zone. My only real goal was to get into the lineup; so it was unreal to be a part of the ride this season.”

Smutek was one of the eleven first year players to get ice time this season, a testament to the youth that was a driving force to the Huskies this season.

The adversity facing the UConn team would only increase after that point. After returning home from Niagara Head Coach Bruce Marshall would announce that he was taking an indefinite medical leave of absence, with Coach Berard to assume his responsibilities. Despite losing Marshall, the head coach at UConn for the past 25 years, Ambrosie felt the transition was smooth. “Coach Berard’s role didn’t change at all. When he was the assistant, he ran most of the systems and practice. The team bought into him and he did a tremendous job keeping us focused,” Ambrosie said.

A re-evaluation of the team’s strengths took place that about that same time. “We sat in the locker room and evaluated who we were as a team,” sophomore forward Brad Smith said. “We had speed as a team and wanted to incorporate that into our game.”

With Berard in control behind the bench, the Huskies won four of their next five games, including a road game against future Hockey East opponent Merrimack, as well as the program’s first sweep over the defending conference champion Air Force Falcons. “After the Niagara series, we could have just gone down, but we fought,” Ambrosie, who scored the game winning goal against Merrimack, said. “I think that was one of the nicest goals of my career. It was a great win, the best feeling of my career to that point. It was Coach Berard’s first win, so it was emotional; our class had been trying to do that for three years.”

The Huskies started rolling, playing good hockey heading into the Christmas break. “Our first five games were disappointing, but we could feel ourselves coming on heading into Christmas,” Ambrosie said.

Brant Harris was a key that was finding his form around Christmas. After finishing second on the team in scoring the previous season and attending development camp with the Washington Capitals, Harris started his junior season snake bitten. “I had to just keep plugging away. I was playing well, so I just had to keep going,” Harris said of his start.

Before the Christmas tournament, Harris had scored just one goal and one assist. From that point on, Harris scored 29 points in the final 24 games of the Huskies season, exploding to get the Huskies on track for a second half tear. The second half started strong again for Huskies, as they won their opening two games against Penn State before Bruce Marshall announced his resignation as Head Coach at UConn. Still, the Huskies didn’t blink and focusing on each game individually, even with an inter-state rivalry game against #4 ranked Quinnipiac in Hamden looming large. “It was extremely difficult not to look ahead to Quinnipiac, but the coaches kept us in the present,” Ambrosie said.

Riding a national best 16 game unbeaten streak, the Bobcats got all they could handle from the Huskies before emerging with a 2-1 win. The Huskies came away disappointed but used their effort as a building block for their play moving forward. After taking three points from AIC, the Huskies were still searching to find the last piece of the puzzle to make a run. The Huskies came away from their next series with Rochester with a road split, but there was no satisfaction in that. The Huskies had a hostile week of practice before playing a home-and-home series against the Bentley Falcons.

Unfortunately for Bentley, they caught the Huskies at the wrong, as the Huskies beat them on the road before crushing them at home the following night 9-0. “I never thought I would be on the winning side of a game like that,” Ambrosie said. “It was a statement game for us; that was when everyone got scared of us.” The Huskies had come full circle from the beginning of their season and now believed they were capable of anything.

“There was no doubt from Christmas on about what we could do. We were consistent, we were rolling. Nobody could stop us,” Kyle Huson said.

“It started from Coach Berard. He put it in our minds that we can win,” Smith said. “Coach Berard did a good job of instilling that in us,” Gerling said. “We weren’t the best or the deepest team but we trusted each other.”

The UConn locker room was a family, perhaps nothing showed that better than when Chris Bond went down against Army February 22nd due to a vicious hit to his head. Bond suffered a broken and dislocated jaw and spent the night in the hospital with his father, UConn trainer Ed Blair and David Berard. “I don’t know how many other coaches would have done that. Ed and Coach Berard were there until 5 in the morning and they didn’t need to be there. They were there because of how much they care about the guys here, it left a big impression,” Bond said.

“In all of my years of playing, this was the closest group of guys I’ve ever  played with,” Smith said of the family feeling.

The Huskies went 4-1-1 from the Bentley game to the end of the regular season, finishing fourth in Atlantic Hockey and securing the program’s first ever opening round bye. “We locked in on it. To get the first round bye was a very rewarding feeling. It was something to be proud of,” Ambrosie said.

The Huskies would host Robert Morris and once again were not favored to win the series despite being the higher seed and at home. “Everyone stayed focused. Any guy would do anything to get a win, we had total confidence in ourselves,” Ambrosie recollected.

The Huskies locked up the series in two games, sending them to Rochester for the second time in three years with a legitimate chance to win a conference championship. “It’s the best feeling I’ve ever had,” Ambrosie said. The Huskies would meet Mercyhurst University in the semifinals, falling 4-1 and ending an incredible season. “There were a lot of hugs and handshakes, a lot of goodbyes,” Ambrosie said.

“We got written off a lot of nights, but we proved people wrong,” Gerling said of the Huskies season.

There remain unanswered questions as the Huskies look towards from the future. The University looks for a permanent coach as the team transitions into college hockey’s best conference. David Berard will be among the candidates and has the confidence of his players behind him. “As a hockey player you want to win every game. There are times where you don’t want to win for a coach, you want to just win for the guys in the room,” Brad Smith said. “We know how much time and passion Coach Berard put in. He pushed us to play as hard as we could. We wanted to win for him, from top to bottom, we were all in.”

Coach Berard said in an interview before the playoffs “If you show your players you care about them, you can push them to any limit.”

The Huskies felt that commitment and reacted to it. “That sums it up,” Ambrosie said of the quote. “We saw his passion and the time he put in. Everything he did was unbelievable. He spent nights at the rink putting work in. He would’ve done anything for us, we saw that and that’s why we put in so much.”

With Berard behind the bench, the Huskies went 19-10-3, secured the program’s best non-conference record and led UConn to their best record in the Division 1 era. A culture change started when David Berard and Rich McKenna came to UConn, where complacency was replaced with hunger and a family was created. Through adversity and heart, UConn overcame to conceive their program’s most successful season ever and leave a bright path for the future.

The decision will be up to UConn Athletic Director Warde Manuel, alongside Senior Associate Athletic Director Doug Gnodtke who oversees the Men’s Hockey program as the sports administrator. Manuel knows what he is looking for in UConn’s next head coach and has taken careful steps to find the candidate with those characteristics. “Obviously we’re looking for someone who is going to help as we elevate the program. Help bring that success not only next year in Atlantic Hockey but in Hockey East and help us develop the program with scholarships and do some of the things we are doing to transition,” Manuel said.

As important as the on-ice success will be for the next coach, academic success is equally as important for Manuel. “I want coaches who have had success developing student-athletes or have been a part of a program that has done that and coaches who are successful with the academic side with their student athletes as well. It’s not just what they’ll do on the ice; it’s how the program and the coaches have been with their student athletes in the classroom and off the ice,” Manuel said.

Among the challenges facing Manuel is how to gauge a candidate’s character, as well as separating a single person’s success from that of an entire coaching staff. “You have to looking into their background. We have to do our due diligence and talk to people who know different candidates confidentially to get a sense of who they are as people,” Manuel said. “You ask them questions in the interview process to gauge their response to certain questions or situations to get them to provide feedback on how to deal with those things.”

Separating a coach’s individual accomplishments from that of a team is even more difficult, especially when looking at an assistant coach. “The head coach gets all the credit but a head coach can’t be successful without great assistant coaches and great student athletes,” said Manuel. “Obviously with an assistant coach it is harder to determine how much they impact the success. You have to talk to the head coach, talk to the people that would know the program who would understand the impact of that particular person. So it’s a little harder with an assistant because they aren’t the ones making the final decisions but you can get really good feedback from people in the process and you can also, in the interview process, get a good sense of whether or not an assistant coach has done the things to prepare them to be successful.”

Outside of the feedback coming to Manuel from his team, the student-athletes at UConn have had a chance to voice their opinion. “I take into account what they would like to see in their head coach,” said Manuel.  “But student-athletes are not involved in interviewing candidates. I met with some of the student-athletes and we talked about and received their perspective of what characteristics they would like to see in their head coach.”

Manuel has not spoken and will not speak with any recruits for the hockey program about how their commitment would be effected if David Berard was not hired. Berard is still acting as the Head Coach until told otherwise and is considered a serious candidate for the full time position. “I’m very proud of the team. Obviously David has done a great job and is candidate for the position. I am very impressed with him. I have gotten a chance to see him over the last five months or so lead that program and we will interview him as a part of the process and make a decision I believe that will take us through this year and into playing in Hockey East,” Manuel said of Berard.

Manuel expects a four to five year commitment on the contract of the next head coach in order to build a winning program at UConn. . “In my mind you need, as we move forward, is somebody to come in with a commitment from us of about 4-5 years. It’s not something where I expect us to win the conference tournament the first year in hockey east. When you are building a program I need to know and whoever is selected as the coach needs to know that there is a long term commitment to them to build a program the right way,” Manuel explained.

On a final note, Manuel explained that UConn made a four year commitment to Hockey East to play at the XL Center in Hartford. “That helps us with marketing and selling the program. It helps with fan base coming in and the experience of our team playing in a former NHL and now an AHL facility. It is a great facility to play hockey in and it gives us time to really go into more detail and to plan what a facility on campus would cost as well as to start to develop a plan, a financing and a fundraising plan to build anything that we would need to build on campus.”

 

The Foundation Class

Come Senior Night, UConn will honor arguably the most influential senior class in the history of the program. The five young men set to graduate this spring have been the driving force behind unparalleled growth in the Husky hockey program, igniting a culture change and setting UConn into uncharted levels of success. Sean Ambrosie,Garrett BartusEvan CarriereAlex Gerke and Tom Janosz comprise a group that has set all-time marks individually, but their contributions to their team casts a reach that extends far beyond the record books.

Sean Ambrosie has spent half of his UConn career with a “C” stitched to his sweater, growing into a respected leader and feared opponent over a storied four year career. When Senior Night arrives, Ambrosie will sit four points shy of UConn’s all-time division-one record, three games away from the career games played record while having already set the career assists mark earlier in his senior campaign. A Minnesota native, Ambrosie arrived at UConn an energetic speedster with offensive upside but still in need of some work.

“For Sean, it was about slowing his game down. His speed coming in was great, but he needed to adjust his game to make it a real asset,” former Head Coach Bruce Marshall said of Ambrosie. “Sean brings energy to the rink every day, he competes hard and that’s what his teammates respect about him.”

 
It was under Coach Marshall where Ambrosie was appointed Captain, a learning experience that helped shape Ambrosie into the player he is today. Interim Head Coach David Berard has seen Ambrosie blossom since becoming comfortable in that leadership role.

 

“My first impression of Sean was that he was still learning how to be a leader and what it took to be effective,” said Berard, who joined UConn during Ambrosie’s first year as Captain. “You have to learn that there are lines you can’t cross as a Captain, you have to set an example as well as hold your teammates accountable, it’s difficult to do.”

Coach Berard credits Ambrosie with understanding the culture that the coaching staff was trying to create at UConn and influencing others to get on board with the direction of the team. Ambrosie’s leadership style isn’t a vocal one, but a lead-by-example approach noticed by his teammates every time he steps on the ice.

“He comes to work every practice and he brings it every game,” said freshman forward Joe Birmingham.

Ambrosie’s attitude is encapsulated in a game based on speed, size and skill and has led him to the top of UConn’s all-time scoring list.

“He’s got great speed, one of the fastest on our team, and he has great ability down low. He’s agile, he always has his head up and he makes great passes,” said linemate Jordan Sims.

Ambrosie has led the Huskies every year of his career in power play scoring, but his improved play at even strength is an indication of his overall game rounding into top form.

“We’ve worked with Sean a lot on being more assured of shooting the puck and using his speed and size more effectively. He was more of a passer last year, but this year he is a real threat to score,” said Berard. “He’s just a more sound player. He’s been our most consistent player all year and he’s having the year you expect a senior captain to have.”

The persona of Sean Ambrosie off the ice differs greatly from his reputation as a player. Ambrosie’s affinity for spontaneously wrestling his teammates has earned him quite the reputation.

“He’s the biggest twelve year old we’ve ever met,” said sophomore winger Trevor Gerling with a laugh.

Brad Smith has lived with Ambrosie for the past two years and has a unique bond with him.

“He’s a character. As much trouble as we give him, he’ll do anything for his teammates, he’ll be the first guy to help you out with something,” said Smith.

For Ambrosie, his favorite memory came in 2011, playing in Rochester for the Atlantic Hockey tournament during his sophomore season. The Captain is well aware of the foundation he helped change for the UConn program.

“We won seven games my freshman year and I think our class was key in helping turn the ship around. Even though we won’t get to play in Hockey East, we all feel the reward.”

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It took Garrett Bartus until his junior season to cement himself as the greatest goaltender UConn has seen in their history. The St. Louis native has broken nearly every goaltending record for the Huskies, despite joining the team halfway through his freshman season. Bartus has set the precedent for future goaltenders, like sophomore Bobby Segin, who has tried to learn everything he can from his fellow netminder.

“I’ve always tried to play on his side during practice and use him as my teacher,” said Segin.

Bartus’ abilities have stemmed from a unique attitude, one that started as soon as he arrived on campus under Coach Marshall.

“Garrett accepted an opportunity in an adverse situation. He competes hard every single game and every single practice; you knew you would get everything he had,” Marshall said.

That same attitude does not go unnoticed amongst his teammates.

“He’s really competitive; he hates to get scored on in practice. He just has a winning attitude,” said sophomore center Ryan Tyson.

“He carries the same edge that all the greats carry, he’s a great competitor,” freshman Tyler Cooke said of the veteran netminder.

Bartus has made life easy on the young team playing in front of him and has the full confidence of the rest of the Husky team.

“The team we have, we’re going to score goals. We know he’s back there to back us up and get us a win,” saidTrevor Gerling.

Coach Berard has worked closely with Bartus, helping develop his game further over the past two seasons.

“Garrett has great athleticism, good size; he’s a presence in net,” said Berard. “He wants to get better. We’ve worked on improving how he reads the play and being more patient in net, not solely relying on his athleticism.”

Like any goalie, Bartus has his quirks, including the way his equipment hangs in the locker room.

“In the locker room, we hang the pants on the left and the chest protector on the right, that’s the way it has to be. Sometimes I’ll flip it and Bartie will always change it back. He’s only caught me in the act once,” Bobby Segin said.

During a tumultuous senior season, Coach Berard and the rest of the Huskies have seen Bartus’ character shine through.

“He’s dealt with adversity in a different role this year. It took maturity, confidence and character to get through it, it’s been really positive,” said Coach Berard.

The play of Garrett Bartus throughout his career has been one of the most critical aspects in the Huskies turn around and his name will continue to sit atop the list of goaltending accomplishments for years to come.

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Evan Carriere’s success during his senior season is the result of tenacity, perseverance and commitment, the same principles that define his on-ice game. One of the most vocal leaders in the Husky lineup, Carriere has finally established himself as an everyday player for UConn, making life a little easier on Coach Berard.

“Evan has been one of our most reliable overall players this season. You know every game he is going to compete, execute and bring emotion,” said Coach Berard.

The animated winger has spent time on a line with Shawn Pauly this season, setting a positive example for younger players.

“He’s got a great work ethic, really good hockey sense and is a huge penalty killer for us. He’s really an unsung hero on our team,” said Pauly.

Those same sentiments are echoed throughout the Husky lineup.

“He blocks nearly every shot that comes his way. He’s just a hardnosed guy, he’s got a big body and protects the puck well,” sophomore center Joe Budnick said.

Coach Marshall appreciated the unconventional aspect that Carriere brings to the lineup every night.

“Evan isn’t your typical player and you need guys like that. You need guys who have the passion and heart to get it done. That’s what Evan brought,” Marshall said.

As much as the UConn lineup will miss Carriere next year, Evan will miss the stability UConn hockey provided over his four years.

“I’m going to miss coming to the rink every day, knowing that the boys will be there. It adds structure.”

Carriere will leave UConn at the conclusion of his finest year as a Husky, with one more thing left to check off his list, a championship.

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Alex Gerke joined Sean Ambrosie as a Captain of the Huskies this season, leading a young defensive corps while maintaining his status as an elite defenseman. After putting up 25 points in his junior season, Gerke’s overall numbers dipped during his senior year, but Coach Berard believes Gerke’s overall game went to another level.

“We’ve relied on Alex a lot this season and asked him to do more. He hasn’t had quite the offensive season as the year before, but I think he’s had a greater impact on our team,” Coach Berard said.

Gerke has captained a defensive corps with three first year players in it every night and has excelled in his leadership role. Similar to Sean Ambrosie, Gerke is more of a lead-by-example player, but has been known to speak out when needed.

“When he speaks, guys listen and he is always right on target with what needs to be said,” Berard said of Gerke. Like every player, Gerke had to adjust his game early in his college career.

“Alex came in with a bit of an edge, but when he learned how to manage his game better, that’s when he became a really special player,” said Marshall.

As was the case in his junior season, Gerke has once again played side by side with a freshman, Tyler Cooke, on UConn’s top pairing for all but 5 games this season.

“He’s a smart player in all three zones. He’s really good with the puck and always makes the right play,” Cooke said of his defensive partner.

Freshman defenseman Chris Bond knows Gerke well off the ice, sitting next to the UConn captain in the locker room.

“He’s really funny, the kind of guy you love to hang out with,” Bond said of his neighbor.

Gerke’s on ice vision is one of his greatest attributes, while Coach Berard also pointed out the defenseman’s superb timing while on the power play, as well as praising his aggressiveness and ability to close on an opponent defensively.

“He’s had a great career and played a lot of hockey here,” Berard said.

Gerke shares the same desire to go out with an Atlantic Hockey championship and will miss the everyday routine of UConn hockey.

“Coming to the rink every day is your rock. Whether you need to blow off steam or whatever the case may be, you know the boys will be there.” Gerke said.

Gerke will leave UConn as one of the finest all-around defenseman the school has seen in their history and has set an example for those behind him to follow.

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Nearly everyone who knows Tom Janosz will crack a wide grin when they think of the senior defenseman, with the exception of those who have had the misfortune of playing against him.

“I love playing with Janosz, you never know when he’s going to hammer someone,” said sophomore defensemanSkyler Smutek.

“He’s one of the most physical defensemen on our team. He’s being aggressive, his gaps are good, and he is a great senior leader,” said junior forward Brant Harris.

The hero of the 2011 quarterfinal matchup against Mercyhurst, Janosz is a bit of a legend around the UConn locker room.

“We had a tradition where every guy would say what his favorite UConn memory was and Bobby Segin, who was a freshman at the time, said Janosz’s overtime winner, which he wasn’t even here for,” Marshall recalled.

Despite not having overwhelming speed, Janosz has adjusted to play opponents closely in transition, taking away time and space and bulldozing enemy players every game.

“He’s pound for pound the toughest guy on our team,” said Berard.

Despite the tough exterior, there isn’t a more colorful player in the Husky locker room.

“He’s always playing games on his phone, joking around about leveling up or beating his high score,” freshman defenseman Kyle Huson said.

“He’ll always try to make sure you have a good time,” said Cody Sharib.

Janosz recalls his favorite career moment as UConn’s outdoor game in 2011 and hopes simply to be remembered as a player who showed up every day and worked hard. Just like the other four seniors, Janosz will miss the rest of the team come graduation.

“I’m going to miss the friends and friendships I’ve made here, that has been the most rewarding part of this,” Janosz said.

As UConn bids adieu to the five seniors on Friday night, it will honor five players who shook the foundation of a program and sent it to a level that they never believed they would see it achieve in their time at UConn. Their first season saw the Huskies win seven games and just three years later the five seniors have helped win more than double that total with games still remaining. Ambrosie, Bartus, Carriere, Gerke and Janosz may not make up the most glamorous graduating class UConn has ever produced, but there is no doubting that there has never been a more important one.

Three thousand miles from home, two friends find hockey success at UConn

Trevor Gerling opened the scoring for UConn against Sacred Heart on November 9th, 2012, when a shot from the right side found its way past Steven Legatto and into the back of the net. It wasn’t a particularly glamorous goal; it didn’t end up being the game winner, nor was it a major milestone for Gerling. But what made that goal so special was the fact that Skyler Smutek was manning the blueline behind Gerling when the puck went in. For two best friends, who had traveled across the country to play college hockey together, played with and against each other for nearly a decade, and spent every summer since they met honing their skills alongside each other, it was a milestone in every sense of the word. There are few families in sports that have bonds as strong as those created in hockey and the Seattle-born blueliner and winger are a perfect example.

Gerling and Smutek — known fondly as “Gerls” and “Smutty” to their friends and teammates — first met in the spring between their 11- and 12-year-old seasons while trying out a spring team. After making the team, the two of them began a friendship that would span many years and many more miles. Smutek and Gerling played their first full winter together as Bantams for the Kent Valley Selects in Washington. It was at this time where Smutek remembers the closeness starting, as the two also lived in the same apartment complex.

Gerling (left) and Smutek (right) battle in front of the net during a game while playing in the BCHL. Photo Courtesy of Skyler Smutek

“It was really easy to bond since we lived close by,” he said. “Every day Trevor’s Dad would bring us to practice and my Mom would come and pick us up at the end.”

After finishing their time in Kent, the two switched associations and played in Seattle for three years, spending every winter and summer together playing hockey until the age of 18. Smutek went to play in Quesnel, British Columbia for the Millionaires junior team, while Gerling played for the Langley Chiefs in the British Columbia Hockey League. The two were separated by nearly 400 miles and 8 hours of driving time, but still stayed in contact, helping one another adjust to life as a junior hockey player.

“It was different,” Gerling recalled, “we helped each other out in different ways, just talking to each other throughout the year.”

The two only played four times in their three seasons in the BCHL, and didn’t have their first game until their sophomore seasons when Langley traveled to battle the Millionaires. The first game was a memorable one, especially for Gerling. Smutek and the Millionaires were leading 3-2 with fewer than 2 minutes to play and on the powerplay when Gerling skated onto the puck at center ice with only Smutek to beat. Gerling made a beautiful play to chip the puck by a retreating Smutek and scored the game-tying goal. The Millionaires ended up winning the game, but Gerling had the personal bragging rights.

Gerling and the Cheifs were the much better overall team, and proved it in their next two games against the Millionaires, winning 7-1 in Quesnel later that season as well as dominating 8-1 the following year. With just one meeting remaining between the two friends, it was Smutek who evened things up against Gerling and Langley. Both Gerling and Smutek were the captains of their respective clubs when they met for the final time in. After 60 minutes of hockey the Millionaires and Chiefs had battled to a 4-4 tie and headed to overtime. Smutek picked up a loose puck behind the Millionaires net and headed up the far wing where he came face to face with Gerling. Smutek chipped the puck past his childhood pal and skated towards the middle of the ice before ripping a backhander into the back of the cage. Score settled.
It had been four games full of heated moments, one of which had put the two at odds on the ice.

“One game a huge scrum broke out, and the both of us being captains had to talk to the referee to make sure all of the right penalties were called. We both felt we were in the right, so things got heated,” Gerling said. But hockey never drove a wedge in between their friendship.

“There’s always some friendly chirping, and every chance I got I wanted to finish my check on him. My coaches knew we were buddies, so I wanted to make sure they didn’t think I was taking it easy on him,” Smutek said.

“We spent a lot of time against each other on the powerplay and on the penalty kill and the battling got heated, but there was never a wedge between us because of that,” Gerling added.

Gerling committed to UConn in 2009, during his second year of junior hockey after former Husky assistant Joe Dumais had made his pitch to the young forward.

“I made a few trips to UConn, but I kind of knew what to expect from the players, the coaches and the campus,” Gerling said. He was ahead of the game because Jordan Sims, a BCHL alum already at UConn, told Trevor about the hockey program as well as the school aspect of life.

Smutek was not far behind, but things may have turned out a little different for the young defenseman if not for his good friend.

“At the time Trevor committed, I had only been talking to the Air Force Academy, but Trevor mentioned to Coach Dumais that I was available as a defenseman. I got a call from Dumais that summer and he came to watch me play at Quesnel. I was committed to UConn before I even flew down. I had the chance to play college hockey, and especially with your best friend, not many people get that chance,” Smutek said.

A delay in eligibility held Smutek out his first season, but the two friends, now roommates, are seeing regular ice time as Huskies this season, and living with each other across the country hasn’t been a change at all.

“It’s been a little surreal actually, back home he spends half his time at my house and I spend half of my time at his, so it hasn’t been an issue. It’s like having a brother,” Smutek said.

There are adjustments to make in moving across the country for both, but it’s something they’ve done well.

“For me, it’s the snow storms and the hurricanes; the weather is much more extreme. I miss my family back home, but I love our team, we have a great room here,” Gerling said.

For a couple of guys who know each other so well, it seems to only be a matter of time until the on-ice production comes.

The two have each other scouted pretty well, yet another validation of the bond the two have formed over nearly ten years of friendship.

“Trevor has a lot of skill; his hands are some of the best on the team. Once he really gets comfortable out there he can put a lot of points up,” Smutek said. “I see myself as a puck moving defenseman. I think I can get shots through and contribute to the offense. I’m doing my best to transition from juniors and improve the defensive side of my game.”

“Smutty is an offensive presence, he moves the puck really well and he loves the physical part of the game,” Gerling said. “I feel I have offensive talent, but I’m just trying to keep things simple, create with speed and playmaking.”

It’s a friendship that has stood the test of time and distance, as well as a healthy dose of competition, but when Gerling seems to find Smutek on a blind pass, it’s more than just luck; he knows he’ll be there.

Austin Azurdia Interview

We spoke with UConn’s newest recruit Austin Azurdia this past week about his commitment to Connecticut. The native of Wenatchee Washington is currently a member of the Langley Rivermen of the BCHL and will join the Huskies this coming season. You can here the full interview here as well as Azurdia’s most famous highlight here! Thanks folks, remember to tune into WHUS.org for all UConn hockey games and follow Goal Mouth Radio on twitter for everything UConn Hockey.