The 2012-13 men’s hockey team, a young and inexperienced group that won just nine games, had a habit of fading in the final 40 minutes. In 34 games last season, the Huskies were outscored by 37 goals, 36 of which came in the second and third periods alone.
Head coach Jim Madigan attributed the lack of finish to a dearth of depth, a deficiency that frequently led to late-game fatigue. “Our players were in good condition,” he explained in a preseason interview, “but we were relying on the same small group because we didn’t have the depth to spread the minutes around.”
This season figures to be different, starting with Friday’s opener at Matthews Arena against Alabama-Huntsville. When the puck drops at 7 p.m., fans of the red and black will be formally introduced to 11 new players, the fruits of a recruiting effort to infuse the roster with a unique combination of offensive pluck and defensive grit.
“I think we’re going to be a really deep team with a lot of skill as well as a lot of character,” said captain Josh Manson, a third-year defenseman who logged 15 minutes of ice time per game last season. “I’m hoping we’ll be difficult to play against.”
The offensive production should improve from last season, in which the Huskies scored just 2.4 goals per game. Three of last season’s top four scorers will return to the lineup, including sophomore forward Kevin Roy, who led the team in goals (17) and points (34) despite missing seven games because of an injury.
“Kevin has as much skill as any player in college hockey,” Madigan said. “He has unbelievable instincts and a goal scorer’s touch.”
The same could be said of Roy’s new teammate Mize Szmatula, who tallied 76 points in 64 games while playing in the United States Hockey League last season. “Szmatula’s always in a position to go on the attack,” Madigan said of his new star forward. “He sees the ice well and has an accurate shot.”
Team defense will play an equally prominent role in determining the squad’s success. Last season, the Huskies allowed 3.5 goals per game, which ranked last in Hockey East. This season, Madigan has recruited three new blueliners to shore up the back end, including Boston Bruins draft pick Matt Benning, whom he characterized as a “smart, cerebral puck-moving defenseman who brings passion and grittiness to the ice.”
“Our priority is to improve team defense,” he added. “An early indication of our success will be whether we are eliminating shots on goal and keeping our goals against under three.”
When Madigan discussed the team in mid-September, he did not reveal Friday’s starting goaltender. Last year’s starting goalie Chris Rawlings graduated in the spring, leaving Clay Witt, Bryan Mountain, and redshirt freshman Derick Roy as his possible replacements.
“It’s an open competition,” Madigan said.