STORRS, Conn. — UConn men's hockey coach Mike Cavanaugh likened college hockey more to its winter counterpart basketball than to football at the Huskies' media day earlier this month.
There won't be many redshirts for the Huskies' newcomers this winter. Like college basketball, top tier recruits are expected to contribute from day one — especially on a UConn roster that has had to replace 11 players from last year's team.
"I know football redshirts a lot of kids, but that's not the case in our sport," Cavanaugh said. "When you come in as a first year player, you're expected to contribute quite a bit."
The Huskies are bringing in 12 freshmen — six from the United States, three from Canada, two from the Czech Republic, and one from Russia. Cavanaugh noted that it can often take as much as a semester for freshmen to get acclimated, but with junior hockey experience, it can take less time.
Among the freshmen is Ruslan Iskhakov, a 5-foot-7 forward from Russia who was drafted by the New York Islanders in the second round of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. Iskhakov, who just turned 18 in July, scored 30 points in 33 games for Krsnaya Armiya Moskva in the MHL, and is expected to produce as a freshman.
Against Army in UConn's season opener on Friday, Iskhakov scored one goal and had an assist in a 5-2 win.
"I think he's adjusting very well," junior Alexander Payusov said of Iskhakov. "It's definitely a hard thing to do when you don't speak the language, having never played here."
It's an adjustment for all the freshmen. For those who played junior hockey, getting reacclimated to a school atmosphere is a priority. For others, there are language barriers, or just adapting to the college game.
"It's really fast, all the players are really stronger," said freshman Jachym Kondelik. "The first couple of weeks, it was an adjustment to kind of get used to it. Just need to get used to it, the guys are really strong and can push me away from the puck."
The Huskies play the first four games of their season on the road, and 9 of their first 13 away from Hartford. That includes a game at Quinnipiac on Tuesday at 7 p.m.
"Poor scheduling on my part," Cavanaugh joked.
UConn will see nine Hockey East opponents during that stretch, including games at Boston University, Providence and Northeastern, each of which was nationally ranked last season.
Cavanaugh is in favor of the early season road trips, however, citing that they can have positive impacts on the team.
"I like it, I like getting out on the road," he said. "There's the old adage that the team grows a little bit closer when they're on the road. You learn a little bit about yourself as a program, how you react to an opponent's crowd, and can you block out the distractions and focus on the task at hand."
The Huskies will play eight of their last 10 games of the regular season at home.
Rookie Ruslan Iskhakov slams on the brakes and puts the biscuit in the basket for his first collegiate goal 🚨#IceBus rolls to their first win at Army!@Buccigross @SportsCenter #SCTop10 #CawlidgeHawkey pic.twitter.com/0EGufYqjEp— UConn Men's Hockey (@UConnMHOC) October 13, 2018
The Huskies' starting goalkeeper, Adam Huska, posted a 2.59 goals against average as a sophomore. He'll likely be one of the most important players on the ice for UConn, though Cavanaugh wasn't quick to lift up the priority of his netminder.
"He has to be as good as our center, as good as our defensemen," Cavanaugh said. "I don't think it's fair to put that all on the goaltender. He's got to play as hard as our center and as hard as our defensemen, and everybody else on the team."
He added, "He's got to be very good. I think we've got good goaltending, I really do. But a team that just relies on goaltenders to win games, isn't going to go very far."