October 8, 2013 PRINT Bookmark and Share

UConn Focused on One Last Run in AHA

Huskies Want to Win Title On Their Way Out

by Mike McMahon/Staff Writer

As a natural recruiter, looking ahead is part of Mike Cavanaugh’s DNA. But as he gets acclimated to his new job as head coach at Connecticut, the former Boston College associate head coach isn’t looking past the Huskies final season in Atlantic Hockey before joining Hockey East next fall; well, except for when it comes to recruiting, of course.

This season, his first as an NCAA head coach, sights are set on an Atlantic Hockey Championship.

“Our focus is on competing for an Atlantic Hockey regular-season title,” Cavanaugh said. “I think we’d be doing a disservice to our seniors if all we focused on is Hockey East.”

Given what the Huskies return, a championship isn’t that far fetched.

The Huskies have never won an Atlantic Hockey title; on their own campus, until now, they’ve been the red-headed stepchild of the athletic department, with more money, resources and support thrust in the direction of its big-time men’s and women’s basketball programs, and more recently, football.

But last season, after Bruce Marshall left the hockey program for personal reasons, then assistant coach David Berard was named interim head coach and led the Huskies to a 19-10-3 record after Marshall’s departure, advancing the Huskies all the way to the Atlantic Hockey semifinal in Rochester against Mercyhurst.

Suddenly the Huskies went from an afterthought to one of the top-tier programs in the conference, and the attitude surrounding its program internally seemed to change just as fast.

UConn athletic director Wade Manuel has made hockey one of his top priorities, securing the XL Center in downtown Hartford for UConn’s Hockey East home games, for example.

“Dave Berard did a great job making these guys believe they can win,” Cavanaugh said. “The biggest challenge for any program trying to win a championship, with a program that hasn’t won before, is making the players believe they can do it. Because of the work Dave did at the end of last year, that was one of the exciting things when I took this job over, there are a lot of guys who believe they can do it. Now it’s just go out, work hard every day and believe we can accomplish that goal.

“I’m thankful to Warde Manual for offering me this opportunity. With the support of the entire University of Connecticut, from Wade down, they’ve made the transition very easy since I got here in May.”

Cavanaugh’s pedigree as an associate head coach and head recruiter at Boston College is legendary, yet like the program he took over, he seemed like a constant afterthought when it came to head coaching positions around Hockey East.

He was a finalist at Merrimack when the Warriors hired Mark Dennehy in 2005 and was also considered a top candidate for the Lowell (Norm Bazin) and Northeastern (Jim Madigan) jobs, and he was twice considered a favorite for the Providence job before it went to Tim Army and then Nate Leaman.

Cavanaugh’s recruiting savvy has already been put to good use; last week the Huskies received a verbal commitment from Jeff Wight, a talented scorer from the British Columbia Hockey League who fits the mold of the type of scorer his former Eagles tend to target.

But that’s next year. Cavanaugh and the Huskies still have one more thing they want to accomplish in Atlantic Hockey.

“When we get to recruiting we focus on Hockey East,” Cavanaugh said. “I think we’ve been cognizant that with this current team we’ve got to be focused on competing for an Atlantic Hockey title every single day.

“The Atlantic Hockey Association is a good league, and a league UConn has never won.”

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