Paying attention to the smaller details made all the difference for Spencer Naas last season.
Naas scored 15 goals last year as a junior, a career high, after his goal-scoring totals decreased during his sophomore season.
“I just got back to making sure I get enough shots on goal. I had success as a freshman then my shot totals went down as a sophomore. I put an emphasis on being in position to get shots on net,” explained Naas.
“He actually had a pretty good sophomore year. Pucks just didn’t go in for him. I always tell him to focus on how many shots you’re getting on net,” added UConn coach Mike Cavanaugh.
Being in the right spot to score goals is easier said than done when you’re not the biggest player on the ice. The 5-foot-11 senior said he has to focus on retrieving pucks first in order to put the puck in the net.
“There’s an emphasis on my wall play. Both in the defensive zone and working in corners in the offensive zone,” began Naas. “The more time you spend getting the puck, it’ll help put you in position to make plays. I try to create plays off the rush.”
Naas, who came straight to UConn from Benilde St. Margaret High School in his native Minnesota, has always been a strong skater with good speed.
“I continue to work to get faster. I’ve tried to always be quick and fast. That’s always helped me,” said Naas.
“I think I have a pretty good shot and a quick release. I’ve always been good around the net, grabbing rebounds and deflecting shots,” added Naas on the strengths to his game.
“A lot of his goals early were beating goalies with his good shot. Now he’s starting to get rebound goals and greasy goals around the paint. His goals will increase as he scores more goals in the tough areas,” Cavanaugh concurred.
Throughout high school as an elite offensive talent, playing a complete 200-foot game wasn’t always a focus for Naas. The UConn coaching staff has harped on playing well in all facets of the game.
“They always talk about a commitment to a two-way game. Coming from high school, I was primarily focused on the offensive part of my game,” Naas said.
“[The coaches] put extra emphasis on playing solid defensive hockey, stick position, how to angle guys off to the wall and being strong on breakouts to get pucks out,” Naas continued.
Naas tries to watch and emulate two current NHL players in order to be an impact player at the college level.
“One guy I’ve always liked is [Minnesota Wild forward] Zach Parise. He’s a really good two-way winger who gets to the net. He’s good around the net. More recently, [Pittsburgh Penguins forward] Brian Rust. He’s a fast player who uses his speed to get chances. He has a good shot and scores goals in a number of different ways,” said Naas.
Naas’s time at UConn has coincided with the growth of the program, moving from Atlantic Hockey into Hockey East. Being able to be part of that transition was part of the allure for Naas.
“It’s really exciting. It’s the reason I came here. I wanted to be part of something special. We take a lot of pride in trying to take our program to the next level. It’s been fun to see how far the program has come,” Naas said.
Naas will be part of the leadership core that includes returning captain Derek Pratt. The Huskies will look to challenge some of the titans of the league as they hope to to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history.
“Hopefully we can take another step this year. If you can finish in the upper echelon of Hockey East, you give yourself a good chance to be a NCAA Tournament team. If we play well, we can challenge for the regular season or tournament championship,” said Naas.
Naas realizes the competitiveness of the league, but believes the team has a good nucleus of returning players, especially in goal and on the blue line.
“We have [Adam] Huska back in net. We have all our defensemen back. We have a solid core. It’s going to be up to the forwards to put the puck in the net,” said Naas, who believes his team’s speed will be an asset.
Naas and the rest of the Huskies will begin the 2017-18 season with a two-game road trip to Orono to face Maine Oct. 6-7.