The Hockey East tournament may still be two weeks away, but for Mike Cavanaugh and the UConn men’s hockey team, the postseason is already underway.
“This is essentially playoff hockey now,” said Cavanaugh. “When you get to this time in the year, everyone’s jockeying for position – it’s playoff hockey.”
There’s still a lot of room to move for the Huskies, who enter this weekend’s series against Northeastern in ninth in Hockey East. UConn has 12 points through 18 games, and could make a big push for a home playoff series against sixth-place Northeastern.
The prime goal on Cavanaugh’s mind is to get his team playing their best hockey of the season over the next few weeks. Seeding is less important, though finishing in the top eight and solidifying a home playoff series would really help UConn compete for the Hockey East crown this season.
UConn’s last game against Providence showed that the Huskies can hang with the best teams in the country when they play well. Although the result went in favor of the Friars, the performance gave Cavanaugh reason to believe that his team can compete in the playoffs.
“We’re not going to win the regular season title. We know that,” said Cavanaugh. “But our goal is to build to playing our best hockey when playoffs come, and if we can continue to build off of what we did [against Providence], I think we’ll be okay.”
Though Northeastern sits sixth in the conference, they have been one of the hottest teams in the country. They have only lost once since the new year, posting a 9-1-2 mark since January 1 — the second-best record in the country in that span.
The hot streak has been spurred by freshman Adam Gaudette, who has 16 points in 2016. Gaudette has a total of 21 on the season. Junior Zach Aston-Reese is Northeastern’s top scorer with 10 goals and 19 assists – good for 29 points on the season.
The Huskies enter this weekend series with several key players injured. Forward Corey Ronan has missed the last several games, while defensemen David Drake, Johnny Austin and Joona Kunnas all missed Saturday’s game with injuries.
But for Cavanaugh, the focus shouldn’t be on the skaters UConn doesn’t have. The Huskies have dealt with their share of injuries throughout the season, and Cavanaugh has repeatedly stressed that they are just part of the game.
“All we focus on is the guys we have available to play, to be honest,” said Cavanaugh.
Puck drops in Hartford at 7:05 p.m. on Friday night. The two teams meet again in Boston at 7:00 p.m. Saturday as they try to secure a first round home playoff series.
Pete Harasyko is a staff writer for The Daily Campus, covering UConn men's hockey. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.