UConn turns season around before AHA playoffs
Published: Sunday, March 3, 2013
Updated: Sunday, March 3, 2013 22:03
When the final horn sounded on Saturday afternoon in Bridgeport, the UConn men’s hockey team poured off the bench and went charging towards their net to celebrate with goaltender Matt Grogan.
From the top of the arena – and over the sound of the joyous UConn fans – you could hear the passionate screams of joy and triumph. This UConn team has been through a lot, and now it is only four wins away from winning the Atlantic Hockey championship and earning a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
The Huskies defeated Sacred Heart 4-0 on Saturday to clinch fourth place in the AHA and earn a first round bye in the conference tournament – progressing directly to the quarterfinals, which will be a best-of-three series that will be played in Storrs.
Picked to finish seventh in the conference, faced with an early-season coaching change, opting for a change in goaltenders and often with their backs against a wall, the Huskies had a memorable regular season. It came to an end in the greatest way possible for Interim Head Coach David Berard.
“In the last period I was just sitting back and watching,” Berard said. “We scored the second goal and then we got the third and you knew that we were gonna do it, and I was just trying to enjoy the moment and…I think these guys deserve this opportunity because no one, no one, absolutely no one…thought we could do what we did.”
Berard leads a season to remember
Berard is the main protagonist in the story that the Huskies have written this season. When he woke up on Nov. 6, he was an assistant coach on a team that was winless in its first five games (0-4-1) and looked to be on their way to a miserable season.
That was the day that Bruce Marshall took a leave of absence from the program. That was the day Berard took control of the Huskies.
“[The transition] was difficult because we all love Coach Marshall and everyone respects him,” freshman forward Joey Ferriss said, “but, I mean, Coach Berard, we all believe in him too. We’re a team and we stick together so we knew could get through it and just keep playing hockey.”
The response from the team was incredible. In their first five games under Berard, the Huskies went 4-1-0. The run included a shocking win against future Hockey East foe Merrimack as well as a sweep of AHA rival Air Force.
Overall under Berard the Huskies are 17-9-3 and UConn is having arguably the most impressive season in the program’s history as a Division I team, which dates back to 1998. The team’s response to the coaching transition has been vital to the success.
“I thought [the response] was amazing,” senior defenseman and captain Alex Gerke said. “I mean, just everything we’ve been through this year – the ups and downs and Coach Marshall and everything that happened – we just, once we figured our game out early in the year after the first five games it’s just been a great season and I’m glad to be a part of it.”
Huskies have sights set on NCAA Tournament
For the first time in program history, UConn has a bye directly into the Quarterfinals of the AHA Tournament and it is something the Huskies will look to capitalize on.
With only 16 teams making up the NCAA Tournament field, UConn must win the conference tournament to qualify. To win the conference tournament, UConn must win their best-of-three series two weeks from now and then win two single-elimination games the following weekend in Rochester, N.Y.
“I think we’re capable of [winning the AHA],” Berard said. “We’ve got some work to do, but we certainly took the first step tonight, and we’re gonna play at home in a couple weeks, then we’ll see where we’re gonna go, and at that point, you’re four wins away from going to the NCAAs and I know that’s a long way away, but we’re a lot closer to that than we were a month ago.”
Winning the conference tournament has been the team’s goal all season, but the Huskies knew that clinching home ice advantage in the Quarterfinals would put the team in the best possible position to win.
“It’ll be huge, especially for all the seniors,” Gerke said. “We’ll get those last few games in before we go on to playoffs somewhere else hopefully.”