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Notebook: Cavanaugh leads UConn into new era

UConn's new men's hockey head coach brings lessons from BC to Storrs

Sports Editor

Published: Thursday, October 17, 2013

Updated: Thursday, October 17, 2013 00:10

Next year, the UConn men’s hockey program will become the 12th member of the Hockey East Association.

Leading the Huskies into this new era as a member of the nation’s most prestigious hockey conference is Mike Cavanaugh, who spent the last 18 years as an assistant at Boston College, one of Hockey East’s elite programs, with arguably the greatest coach in college hockey history.

Cavanaugh won four national titles in 10 trips to the Frozen Four to go along with nine Hockey East Tournament titles in his time at Conte Forum. But when UConn came calling, he could not refuse.

“The first time I came to the campus, I was blown away by how beautiful the campus was,” Cavanaugh said. “It’s really, I think, just a kind of special place, when you come on campus. I wasn’t expecting that. When Warde and I sat down and he shared his vision of the program with me, he sold me on it, because I had the same types of visions.”

During its time in the Atlantic Hockey Association, UConn has struggled to find success, having never won a conference title.

But the program has been on the rise. In 2012-13, the Huskies overcame a 0-5-1 start and the resignation of long-time head coach Bruce Marshall to finish fourth in Atlantic Hockey and play its way into the conference semifinals. Entering the AHA Tournament, UConn had one of the five best winning percentages in the country after Jan. 1.

With the groundwork laid, Cavanaugh thinks that success is on the way.

“I have always thought if UConn went Hockey East and built a rink that they would be a hockey power, and I have thought that for a couple reasons,” Cavanaugh said. “One, just because of the UConn brand. They win in every sport they start. Football, they’ve won two Big East titles in 10 years. Not many other schools have done that. Basketball speaks for itself. Field hockey’s won national titles. Soccer wins. Last year, baseball won the Big East tournament. Their athletics are very important to them.”

Another reason that Cavanaugh thinks that UConn can build success is the school’s relevance in the state.

“If you’re from Michigan, you root for Michigan. If you’re from Ohio, you root for Ohio State. If you’re from Wisconsin, it’s all about the Badgers,” Cavanaugh said. “And UConn, to me, is one of those states. In the east, you don’t really get that. If you grew up in Massachusetts, there’s BC, there’s BU, there’s Harvard. It’s not just UMass that it’s all about. And I feel like here that if you grew up in Connecticut, it’s about the Huskies.”

This is Cavanaugh’s first head coaching job, but for the last 18 years, he has been behind the bench with Jerry York at BC. The duo also spent one year together at Bowling Green.

York’s success is well documented: 913 career wins and five national championships as a coach to add to All-American honors as an all-time Boston College great as a player. UConn’s new head coach worked side-by-side with a coaching legend, and he hopes to bring some of what he learned to Storrs.

“Jerry’s passion every day that he shows up to the rink, no matter whether you’re having a good day or a bad day, you owe it to the team to go into that locker room and you’ve got to be passionate and enthusiastic and your energy has to be high,” Cavanaugh said. “I think Jerry’s passion and energy that he brings to the rink every day is something that I really admired about him.

“He’s also extremely patient, whether it be with referees, whether it be with his team, he’s really focused on that process of building a solid team, a unified team.”

One of Cavanaugh’s big roles at Boston College was recruiting, and he helped to bring many big-time players to Chestnut Hill, including current NHL stars Corey Schneider, Rob Scuderi, Brian Gionta and Brooks Orpik.

During his first season in Storrs, Cavanaugh will be working with NHL talent. Freshman defenseman Ryan Segalla became the first UConn player ever drafted in the NHL Entry Draft when he was selected No. 119 overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins this year. One of the goals of Cavanaugh and his assistant coaches, Mike Souza and Joe Pereira, is to recruit competitively against the likes of Boston College, Boston University, Notre Dame and the other Hockey East powers.

“Kids have to develop a report,” Cavanaugh said. “When you bring a kid in on visit, that’s the hardest thing is always getting a kid through the door. Whenever you’re in business and sales it says, ‘can you get in the front door?’ So we’ve been able to attract some kids to campus, and much like myself, they get on the campus and I think they’re blown away about how nice it is. I mean, when you take someone through Shenkman or Burton and they see what they’re building here for basketball, it’s pretty awe-inspiring for a kid.

“That, and then you be yourself. They see your enthusiasm and they see how committed you are to the program and I think, in some aspects, I had it pretty good at BC. Going to Frozen Fours year in and year out isn’t a bad thing. For me to leave that and come here and believe in this program also shows some credibility with the kids that, ‘Hey, if Coach Cavanaugh isn’t afraid to take that step then why should I be afraid to take that step?’”

Cavanaugh enjoyed his time at Boston College, but his favorite moment, alongside winning the 2001 national championship, came off the ice. The Eagles do a lot of work in the community, and around the time he first arrived, Cavanaugh met two young Haitian boys living with a single mother in Cambridge. He never lost touch, mentoring them throughout their childhoods, and now those two boys, who were living in a difficult situation, are now in college – one at Marquette University and the other at Boston College.

“To watch those kids come from a very humble background in Cambridge,” Cavanaugh said, “where their mom is a custodian and their dad’s not in the picture…their mom is working 50-60 hours a week just to kind of help those boys out. To see them be successful to the point where they’re both at very good colleges right now and they’re moving in the right direction, that’s probably another favorite moment of mine, one that I’m most proud of. I’m proud of them and being part of their life.

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