The University of Connecticut men’s hockey team remains at home for the next two games, facing off against the University of New Hampshire Wildcats at the XL Center.
Head coach Mike Cavanaugh spoke to the media on Thursday before the series, saying “We’re excited to play against UNH this week. They’re the current College Hockey News Team of the Week, they’ve been playing really well…They have a lot of good players up and down their lineup. We’re going to have to really be disciplined and play a strong, structured game where we’re not giving up odd-man rushes and we’re taking care of the puck, if we want to be successful this weekend.”
The Wildcats’ earned the Team of the Week award after sweeping Boston College last weekend in both games of the series. Previously, UNH beat Clarkson University in the team’s first game of 2022; leaving the Wildcats undefeated so far, this new year.
“They’re just playing the game the right way. They’re doing a lot of the little things—they’re breaking the puck out of their zone extremely well,” said Cavanaugh. “They’re doing a great job of being opportunistic on their offense…if they get any type of scoring chance, they’re making those scoring chances count.”
For the Huskies, scoring chances have been hard to come by as of late. Coach Cavanaugh often references the term “puck luck,” where a team either has it or needs to create it. UConn is currently in a position where the puck luck isn’t there, and the team hasn’t been able to make it themselves. In the previous two games before UNH, UConn only scored one goal in each game.
“When you’re not scoring goals, a good mindset is ‘shoot five-hole.’ If you miss five-hole, you’ll probably hit his pad but when you go top corner and you miss, it goes off the glass and it’s out of the zone. So, right now, we’ve got to do a better job of drilling that thing on net,” Cavanaugh said.
This is the approach the Huskies will take this weekend but remains applicable to the rest of their season. UConn knows what UNH has in store for them in Hartford, so the Huskies need to have their own plan in mind when they take the ice Friday night.
“No matter who you’re playing against, you’ve got to try to take their eyes away, you’ve got to get second-chance opportunities and when you get chances to score, you’ve got to make them count,” coach Cavanaugh emphasized.
While the starting lineup for skaters at puck drop hasn’t been announced, the coach referenced his satisfaction with the surprise lineup of senior captain Carter Turnbull and senior alternate captain Marc Gatcomb as the wings, while shifting senior Jonny Evans to center in the game against Boston University.
The coach explained “We don’t have any right-shot centers…and Jonny has played center,” so the objective was that the right-handed forward could help the team in faceoffs, with the possibility to set up plays or allow other players to create them.
That’s the plan for Turnbull, who’s been skating a little bit faster and making moves on the ice this season. Last season, he scored the overtime winner in a game against UNH to complete a hat-trick. In 2022 already, he’s scored and been at the top of his game.
“I think he’s moving his feet consistently,” Cavanaugh believes, “What makes Carter a really good player is him moving his feet because when he’s moving his feet, he’s not really watching the game; he’s dictating the pace of the game. Sometimes, when you don’t notice Carter as much, he’s not moving his feet and waiting for the play to come to him. He’s the type of player that has to initiate the play.”
Cavanaugh looks to the captains to initiate plays and encourage the rest of the team to do so as well, leading to as many goal scorers as possible in a game. There have been a few points this season where that momentum was present, but despite not being there now, Cavanaugh isn’t worried. He expressed, “I try not to get too caught up with momentum; it can change really quickly.”
The Huskies look to pick up a scoring momentum on Friday, Jan. 21 at 7:05 p.m. in Hartford at the XL Center in the first of two games this weekend against UNH. They’ll stay at home the next day for a Saturday afternoon game beginning at 4:05.