Cavanaugh Preparing UConn for Future Success
Huskies Ready to Compete for AHA Crown
by Joe Meloni/Senior Writer
BOSTON Mike Cavanaugh knows what 2014-15 brings for Connecticut. He knows a move to Hockey East is a massive symbolic step for the fledgling program he took over this summer. He knows his players have to work to do to prepare for the move. And he knows, as well as anyone, it's not going to be easy.
However, Cavanugh also knows none of that matters. At least not right now.
"Tomorrow," he said after Sunday's 4-1 loss to Boston University, "is Monday. We have a day off, and we'll look forward to having a great Tuesday practice."
Just another Monday, another day in the 2013-14 season, his first with UConn and its last in Atlantic Hockey. The Huskies sit fifth in the Atlantic Hockey standings at the moment. Their 2-1-0 record is a nice start, but it's hardly indicative of anything Cavanaugh has planned this season. Taking from his mentor, Boston College coach Jerry York, who he worked under as an assistant for the last 18 years, Cavanaugh has his team working on the same microscope-telescope approach York values.
Individually, Sunday's loss to BU was a disappointment. Cavanaugh wanted to win. His players, some of them, competed well enough to win. Senior goaltender Matt Grogan made 37 saves. Forward Brant Harris scored in his second game back from injury. There were bright spots, but, as Harris said, this year isn't just about taking the positives.
"There are no moral victories," Harris said. "When we come to the rink, we expect to win. We're not happy with the result. We know we have a lot to improve on, but there are things we did well."
Even if it's foolhardy to believe UConn can compete with a team like BU this season, that's the only way to win at this level. The successes of last year's club, which advanced to the Atlantic Hockey semifinal, and the steady, minor improvements of the last decade developed a sense of confidence and pride among the players coming through the program.
"That was started last year, before I got here," Cavanaugh said. "Brant, Jordan Sims, Billy Latta, they had a lot of success last year. Coming into this season, I've said all along, the hardest thing to win the Atlantic Hockey league or any type of championship is truly believing you can do it. That wasn't an issue coming in this season. These guys truly believe they can do it. They got to the semifinals of the league championship last year. I've been very happy with how we've competed in every game."
Cavanaugh's experiences in the last 18 years at Boston College come with perspective. Circumstances are different at UConn, but only so much. When York brought Cavanaugh to BC, the Eagles were a struggling program without any of the acclaim they've earned in the last 15 years. Their success wasn't built on moral victories. It was the product of steady, consistent improvement. Cavanaugh has the same process in mind for UConn.
Understanding the process, the time required for most programs to turn a history of losing with the occasional and slight upswing into a reputation for greatness takes a lot. Wins are the most important commodity. Winning develops confidence and respect. UConn doesn't have much of that just yet. Still, the club trusts the process they're currently going through. It won't be finished this weekend against against American International nor next weekend at Canisius no matter the results.
Trips to BU and Minnesota State earlier in the year offer a level of experience the young team needs to grow. Moreover, they provide chances for the type of wins that catch the eye of college hockey and young men deciding where they want to play in the future. UConn lost each of those games. The wins against prominent opponents will come. For now, the games offer a look into the future for the young players that will eventually move into Hockey East.
"(Playing at BU) is great," Cavanaugh said. "I think playing at Minnesota State back to back was great experience for us too. It was even better for us some ways because we had to go back to back against that's going to compete for a WCHA title. … This is a building we're going to be coming to for years to come. The more we get familiar with it, and the more our guys learn to play here, the better we'll be."