Men’s Hockey Preview: UConn faces BU in final matchup of the season

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After losing 3-1 to American International College on Tuesday, the UConn men’s hockey team travels back home to the XL Center to take on Boston University on Friday, Jan. 14.

Looking ahead to what will be the final matchup between these Hockey East opponents, head coach Mike Cavanaugh is aware of the challenge ahead of the Huskies.

“They’re playing the very best hockey they’re played all year long,” Cavanaugh said Thursday. “I think they’ve gone six games without a loss, and they had a great weekend over Arizona State. They’re healthy now, and I think they’re one of the most talented teams in the league. I said that in the beginning of the year and I still believe that, so we’re going to have to be very detailed, take care of the puck. This is a team that you can’t turn the puck over at the blue line, their transition game is just so strong. We certainly cannot put ourselves in situations where we’re taking unnecessary penalties; their power play is very good. Fundamentally, we’re going to have to be very sound tomorrow if we want to be successful.”

Cavanaugh has repeatedly emphasized the importance of playing a 60-minute game. For UConn, the next match is no exception as the team looks to take the series. UConn won in Boston this year, and BU won over the Huskies the last time they visited the XL Center.

“It can’t just be the first 10 minutes of the game. As I said, there’re not many weaknesses with that team — they’re well coached, they play up and down the ice, they’re playing extremely well right now. We’re going to have to play 60 minutes…If you look at the last eight of our last 10 or 11 games, I think they’ve been one-goal games against this team. It’s going to be a lot of the little things that are important,” Cavanaugh pointed out.

The Huskies have struggled with power plays and puck battles, both little aspects that add up to a game decision and have resulted in losses for UConn over the last few games against Harvard and AIC, with a win over BC in between those games. They’ve all been played on the road, which Cavanaugh believes is a factor.

“Oh, when we have a decent crowd in the XL Center, it gives us a tremendous advantage. I think we feed off of the energy of that crowd. I think our guys feel very comfortable playing in that building — and it’s built for hockey, it’s so steep that the noise and the crowd and the energy is just awesome, it really is. I’m excited to be back home tomorrow night, that’s for sure,” the coach said.

However, the energy has to come from the ice as well. For this, Cavanaugh looks to forwards Jachym Kondelik, a senior and captain, and Ryan Tverberg, a sophomore. This week, both forwards were nominated for the 2022 Hobey Baker Award, presented annually to the top player in college hockey. Candidates must exemplify character traits of strength, integrity, scholarship, and sportsmanship, along with strong hockey skills. 

Cavanaugh is proud of both players for being named candidates and representing UConn. “Consistently, I think Jachym’s been our best player all year long and Ryan’s had a breakout year where at times he was leading the league in scoring,” Cavanaugh said.

Jachym Kondelik, being a senior and captain, is an established player in not only Hockey East but college hockey as a whole. From his years of experience, Coach Cavanaugh has seen a lot of positive growth from him.

About Kondelik, the coach says that, “Certainly maturity-wise, he’s grown up on and off the ice. He’s really preparing himself to be a professional. … He’s really become a great 200-foot player. He’s probably our most responsible player. There’s a reason why he leads our team in minutes and there’s a reason why he kills penalties and he’s on the power play and he’s out there at the end of a game five on six or six on five. I’ve just been so proud of him, the way he’s grown, matured, and developed as a hockey player and I think the sky’s the limit for him.”

As for Tverberg, this is only the beginning. Earlier this season, he was invited to the 2021 National Junior Team for Hockey Canada. Regardless of not qualifying, the sophomore forward is gaining more and more positive recognition, fueling his hockey career.  

 “He’s gotten recognition from our staff — I thought the world of him as a player. I can’t control what other coaches think of him as a player or what the media thinks of him as a player. I’m just concerned about what myself and our staff thinks of him as a player and he’s certainly a kid we wouldn’t trade for anybody,” Cavanaugh says about Ryan Tverberg.

Still, UConn will look to the entire team to pull off the necessary plays for a win over BU and close out the three-game series over the season. In more games than not, the Huskies have had each goal come from a different player, speaking to both team dynamics as well as depth.

“A strength of our team is our depth with our forwards. That’s something that I’m not that concerned with; I feel like we have four lines that can contribute,” said Cavanaugh, hoping to continue the trend of having various goal-scorers within the game.

The puck drops at 7:05 p.m. on Friday at the XL Center, and will have live coverage on ESPN 97.9.

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