Men’s Hockey: Huskies return to Hockey East play against Boston College hoping to improve special teams

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The University of Connecticut men’s hockey team looks to bounce back from last week’s loss to Harvard University in Saturday’s game at No. 18 Boston College.

Reflecting on the 6-3 game against the Crimson, head coach Mike Cavanaugh said, “It’s a tricky situation … you don’t want to confuse effort with results.”

This comes after the Huskies still struggled on special teams. Specifically, UConn has come up short on power plays, unable to capitalize on them despite opportunities and shots on net. This was the case against Harvard, but also when the Huskies played the Eagles earlier this season at the XL Center, losing 2-1 to Boston College.

“I’d love to blame our inefficiency on COVID-19 for special teams, but I don’t think I can go down that road,” Cavanaugh expressed to the media on Friday. “I think it’s just us executing, really. We have the players and we have the skill to be a good special teams team and I really believe we will be. I thought we did a decent job killing penalties. We’ve just got to be more proficient on the power play.”

COVID-19 and special teams were the focus ahead of Harvard. According to Cavanaugh, the team is very healthy, which allowed the Huskies to focus extensively on special teams in practice ahead of Saturday. He shared what he calls “the bike test,” which is where the players need to bike five miles in 15 minutes or less.

“No one was even close to failing the bike test so I feel pretty good about where we are on the ice … I feel better about it now that I think we’ll have a full lineup, too, this weekend. That allows you to play a lot more players and you’re not relying on four or five guys to play 20 minutes for you up front,” Cavanaugh explained.

Still, the entire lineup must be engaged ahead of Boston College.

“They’ve [Boston College] had a lot of confidence playing in that building. I think for them, they feel very comfortable playing at home and in that environment, and it makes it tough on the opposing team.”

The Eagles are currently 10-5-3 overall on the season, and their Hockey East record is 5-3-2. Ahead of Saturday, Boston College is tied with Providence College at fourth place in the conference, which is three spots higher than UConn’s seventh.

The Huskies are hungry for a win and the motive this weekend is to do so by, as simple as possible: scoring. Cavanaugh plans to take the literal and broken-down approach to find the back of the Eagles’ net.

“There’s three ways you can score: it’s off of an offensive zone play, it’s off of a line rush, and it’s off of a power play,” Cavanaugh said. “A team that relies on their power play to score is not going to win many championships. Sooner or later, it’s going to come across where there’s not many penalties in the game or you don’t score on the power play. I like the fact that we’re a team that scores five on five; and we can score off of the offensive zone or we can score off of the rush”

UConn is looking to ultimately score, not necessarily just in a power play, and utilize all five skaters throughout the game. This way, when Boston College has less than five on the ice, the Huskies know how to successfully finish off the power play with a goal. That’s been the toughest part for UConn almost all season long.

“I would equate it to a hitter who’s like, 0 for 20,” Cavanaugh said. “It’s not that you do anything differently, you’ve just got to get back to basics and fundamentals and simplify your swing and find a good pitch and hit it. I think the power play is very similar. You don’t have to have any gimmicks, you don’t have to do anything that’s going to fool the opponent, you just have to get back to fundamentals, shoot pucks and win battles.”

In practice, with conditioned, healthy players, Cavanaugh took it back to these fundamentals in order to meet the players where they are to promote improvement on special teams.

“Once we get our power play going to supplement that, that’s where we’re going to be pretty good … We can still win a hockey game outplaying the opponent five on five … you’re going to need, though, to win special teams late in the season to win those tough, close games,” Cavanaugh said.

With the emphasis around five on five along with what he hopes is a full lineup, Cavanaugh is looking to “keep everybody around 14 to 17 minutes.” He then added, “We need everybody playing well and we need balanced scoring, that’s the strength of our team.” 

UConn faces Boston College on Sunday, Jan. 8 at 4 p.m. in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. The game will be broadcasted on NESN+ and on ESPN 97.9.

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