Last year’s men’s hockey team, an 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. Head coach Jim Madigan attributed this to a lack of depth, which led to late-game fatigue.

This season, the team has 11 new players, the fruits of an off-season recruiting effort to infuse the roster with more offensive pluck and defensive grit. More balance in the Husky roster will give Madigan the freedom to roll four lines and three d-pairings with complete confidence.

“We’ll be difficult to play against,” says Madigan. “I think we’re going to surprise a lot of teams this year.”

As Madigan integrates nearly a dozen new players, here are five things to watch for in the opening games that will indicate the kind of season this will be:

1. Team defense. 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, “a smart, cerebral puck-moving defenseman who brings passion and grittiness to the ice.”

2. The goalie carousel. Goaltenders Clay Witt, Bryan Mountain, and redshirt freshman Derick Roy will compete to fill the void left by Chris Rawlings, who graduated with a 2.83 goals-against average and .914 save percentage in four seasons. Witt and Mountain have played sparingly, with Witt faring slightly better, posting a 2.98 goals-against average and .914 save percentage to Mountain’s 3.17 goals-against average and .900 save percentage. “An early indication of our success will be whether we’re eliminating shots on goal and keeping our goals-against under three,” says Madigan.

3. Offensive resurgence. The team’s offensive production should improve from last season’s 2.4 goals per game. Three of last season’s top four scorers will return, including sophomore forward Kevin Roy, who led the team in goals (17) and combined goals and assists (34), despite missing five games with an injury. “Kevin has as much skill as any player in college hockey,” says Madigan. “He has unbelievable instincts and a goal scorer’s touch.”

4. The play of Mike Szmatula. The first-year forward (second line) tallied 76 points in 64 games while playing in the United States Hockey League. His style should help fans forget last season’s second leading scorer Vinny Saponari, who racked up seven goals and 22 assists in his senior year. “He’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.”

5. The intangibles. The Huskies want to take a page out of the playbook of the 2011 Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins, a tight-knit team that wore down opponents with physical play and an unrelenting backcheck. “I think we’re going to be a really deep team with a lot of skill and character,” says captain Josh Manson, a third-year defenseman who logged 15 minutes of ice time per game last season.

Huskies Hockey First Line and Defense

Kevin Roy
5-10 FORWARD, SOPH.
One of the top freshmen scorers in the country last year. With excellent hockey instincts and a year of college hockey under his belt, Roy is poised to have a big year.

John Stevens
6-2 FORWARD, FR.
Shaping up as a valuable two-way player. More of a puck distributor than a goal scorer, he can play all 200 feet. His minutes are expected to increase with experience.

Braden Pimm
6-0 FORWARD, SR.
A gritty two-way player known for his intensity and strength. Very good down low, with a knack for scoring big goals. Will be a leader among the forwards.

Josh Manson
6-3 DEFENSE, JR.  
The captain is a team leader on and off the ice. An intense, intelligent player who provides an intimidation factor. Sets the pace in practice and in games.

Dustin Darou
6-1 DEFENSE, SOPH.
Missed 10 games last year but is back with a vengeance. Added quickness and lateral movement over the summer. A defensive player who plays a physical game.

Derick Roy
6-0 GOALIE, FR.
A redshirt freshman who plays with confidence. Has worked to improve his glove work, blocker positions, and rebounds.

Clay Witt
6-1 GOALIE, JR.
A redshirt junior with limited game experience prior to this season. Has carried the bulk of the load so far and has played well. Displays tremendous athleticism.