I’ve been a pretty unrelenting critic of Connecticut this season. The Huskies have been better than anticipated in their first season as a Hockey East school.
Still, 8-12-7 overall isn’t a very good record.
There have been some brightspots, though, and goaltender Rob Nichols stands out as a legitimate all-star contender for the Huskies. Building teams from the goal out is a plan for most coaches. Nichols, a sophomore, has a .930 save percentage in 26 games played.
That’s not just a good season. Playing behind this UConn team, a .930 save percentage is truly remarkable.
The coaching and recruiting chops of Mike Cavanaugh suggest the Huskies are only going to improve in the next few seasons. A steady presence like Nichols in goal is precisely what a team in that transition phase needs to punch above its weight in a league like Hockey East.
For the next five years or so, UConn is going to be outclassed on paper by at least a few teams. It takes a long time for programs to build programs with enough good players to win games consistently and compete for championships.
In the short term, finding quality goaltending and coaching a team to support him with disciplined defending will help UConn win more games than sheer talent suggests it should.
It’s not a certainty if anyone to follow Nichols will play this well. Moreover, from watching UConn’s games, it’s abundantly clear that Nichols isn’t just a product of good defending. He’s a remarkable shot-stopper with the agility, skating and poise to steal certain goals. That’s not something every program can find for every recruiting class. There are otherwise great teams in college hockey right now that don’t have goaltending nearly as strong as UConn does.
Looking ahead to the Hockey East tournament, it’s difficult to see UConn winning two of three games from most teams in the league. Nichols, though, is a serious equalizer for the Huskies. As the Huskies improve over the next two seasons, Nichols may well be the type of player that can force a deep playoff run. (more…)