- Contributed by Will Moran, voice of UConn Men's Hockey on WHUS 91.7 FM
It has been over two years since UConn announced it was set to join Hockey East, but the new era in Husky hockey has finally arrived. UConn’s hockey program has grown and evolved to become as ready as it has ever been to compete with the country’s best programs every night. The players, coaches and staff are prepared and excited to be a part of a new chapter in UConn history, but know there is still work to be done to establish themselves among the prestigious group of teams that await them in their new conference.
It’s tempting to think ahead, to look beyond the next game and see the potential for championships, but that isn’t a luxury afforded to anyone tasked with achieving those goals. “I don’t think it’s fair to address the season as a whole because it is really impossible to do,” said head coach Mike Cavanaugh. “Who knows what our lineup is going to look like in March. I think you get in trouble, not just in hockey but in life, if you start looking too far ahead.” That’s not to say that UConn doesn’t have an eye on the future, however. “I always tell our guys, we have the telescope and the microscope and it is nice to have the telescope because our ultimate goal is to win championships, but it is important right now that we stay in the microscope. That sentiment is echoed by the members of the UConn roster. “The first game is going to be something memorable,” senior captain Ryan Tyson said. “But before that game we have to focus every day in the weight room and in practice.”
UConn’s first regular season game is slated for early October, when the Huskies invade Happy Valley for a showdown with Penn State, the official beginning of a new age in UConn Hockey. Outside of the program, expectations for UConn vary based on the point of view, but inside the team the expectations have remained constant. “I expect us to win, I don’t think that ever changes,” Coach Cavanaugh said. “I expect us to prepare and to compete on a nightly basis to be successful.” “A lot of look at us as underdogs so we really have no pressure, but we are going to be playing our hardest every night and giving ourselves the best shot to win,” Tyson said.
Success at the highest level is often based upon a strong culture. The culture of UConn Hockey was not something brought in by Coach Cavanaugh, but rather is an emphasis of the values already a part of UConn. “It’s not just my culture, it is the culture of the university that is important and this university stands for integrity and hard work,” Coach Cavanaugh said. “I am just taking the culture that I believe the university stands for and make sure my players abide by it and that their vision is in line with how the university wants us to conduct ourselves on campus.”
Moving into Hockey East, the Huskies are set in their culture and guided by their leadership, a task that is relished by UConn captain Ryan Tyson and assistants Patrick Kirtland and Trevor Gerling. “Pat, Trevor and I learned from the leaders before us and they set a great example. I really think it is important that we always lead by example, whether it is off the ice, in the classroom or at the rink, we want to show the younger guys how UConn hockey is and how we always give our best effort,” said Tyson. “As long as we have everyone working towards the same goal, I think it will pay off in the end and we want to set that tone early.” Coach Cavanaugh knows how often the Huskies will have to rely on their veterans in order to be successful moving forward. “We have excellent leadership from the top with Ryan being elected as captain. I believe you win with your seniors and you win with your upperclassmen. It isn’t fair for a program to rely on their freshman to win games. They are going to be an integral part of our team but we still need our juniors and seniors to be the leaders of the locker room.”
While Connecticut works to get their 11 newcomers on the same page, there are other relationships that are ready to go after having been together for a year. “In the past the coaching staff has been a bit jumbled, so it is definitely a positive coming into a year having Coach Cavanaugh, Souza and Pereira already being here. We know how they work and they know how we work so it is a really good relationship that we have with them,” said Tyson. “This year they have a pretty clear understanding of how we want the program to be run. I think it is much easier because having spent a year with Ryan, he knows how I prefer things to be run and I have a better understanding of what is best for the guys in the locker room so we are able to work together,” said Cavanaugh.
The player-coach relationship has solidified through time, making it easier for UConn to come in to Hockey East prepared to win games. The same can be said about the coaching staff at Connecticut, which has grown together following a year of experience together. “Last year was a feeling out period because we were all new, none of us had worked together and now we have a year under our belts, I think it is going to be a smoother transition for us as we enter Hockey East,” Cavanaugh said.
There’s a lot to be excited about as the Huskies make their transition to college hockey’s most elite league. Each member of the program has a unique reason for their excitement, while still being focused on a singular goal. “Just being able to play with my classmates and teammates for one more year in our inaugural season in Hockey East, I think that is really an honor,” Tyson said. “I’m really excited to say that my classmates and I were part of the building blocks for UConn in Hockey East. Playing in Hartford is going to be great and we are going to be able to draw more people to our venue and even going into other teams’ rinks. All the programs in Hockey East have great history and track records of winning and we want to start to be a part of that trend and make UConn a part of that tradition.”
“I know Hockey East very well, so it is exciting to be going back to that league and I think our players are going to enjoy playing against that competition on a nightly basis,” Cavanaugh said.
The Huskies are focused on their first game, preparing as diligently as always, with the expectation of success and a foundation of integrity that transcends the hockey team and reaches across the UConn campus. The team has experience together that will serve them well as they enter a new chapter in their history and they are excited and determined to make their program a part of the success that has defined Hockey East for years. The Huskies understand who they are as a program and will be ready to go when the puck drops in October. “You are going to see a team every night that plays with respect, plays fast and competes every single night. You are going to see a team that the university will be proud to support,” Coach Cavanaugh said.