In the final of a three-game series this season, the Huskies will face the Eagles for what will be the determining game of who claims a series victory on Friday, Feb. 11. This will be UConn’s only game of the weekend after playing Tuesday night, and the Ice Bus needs to make it count.
“We played a pretty complete game on Tuesday night against Merrimack, but that’s certainly not going to help us at all tomorrow night versus the Eagles,” head coach Mike Cavanaugh said on Thursday.
As UConn comes off of the Merrimack and overall series win, BC just suffered their fourth-straight loss this season earlier this week. Still, Cavanaugh isn’t counting them out.
“I was really impressed with [BC], watching them play in the Beanpot on Monday night. I thought they deserved better in that game, I thought they controlled a lot of it and they ran into a hot goaltender,” Cavanaugh said.
There’s another “hot goaltender” on UConn’s lineup who melts the ice around the net each game. Who could that be?
Despite this being his first season with the Huskies, Hanson has made an immediate impact that keeps growing with each game through his continued experience and development.
“Again, it’s a kid who’s played a lot of hockey. He’s played over 100 college hockey games, so he understands what his strengths are,” Cavanaugh expressed. “Now, he’s become so acclimated to our team, I think he understands the strength of our team. When you have a goaltender that you really believe in, it makes playing the game a lot easier. You’re not afraid to make mistakes because you feel like you have a goalie that can bail you out [at] times.”
Hanson, a graduate student, has only allowed two goals or less in the last seven games. When UConn first lost to BC in the beginning of the season, 1-2 at the XL Center, Hanson only let in two goals while making 37 saves. He allowed four in the Jan. 8 game, but UConn still won 5-4.
Cavanaugh attributes the strong scoring and defensive efforts to the skating experience that several upperclassmen bring to Storrs.
“I think we have some great seniors. With the three grad students we have, along with our seniors, that’s 10 upperclassmen with those guys alone. They’ve provided a lot of stability for our team and experience,” Cavanaugh said. “They’ve played a lot of hockey and in February, I think they understand what it takes to win, and I really have got to credit them.”
One of the most senior lines consists of forwards Vladislav Firstov, Jachym Kondelik and Kevin O’Neil. Paired with Hanson on the defensive side, they look to lead the team on both ends of the ice. However, Cavanaugh doesn’t claim the credit for making those connections.
Cavanaugh admitted “luck” is why the line with Firstov, Kondelik and O’Neil works so well.
“I’d like to say that it was really strategic but … They all just bring a different element to the line,” Cavanaugh said. “They play great defense and a lot of offense comes from playing really well in your defensive zone. They don’t cheat, and that’s how they’re creating a lot of opportunities.”
Cavanaugh elaborated that it’s really within the opportunities that these players, among the other members of the roster, create that make them successful as individuals and thus produces team success.
“You have to be able to generate chances from your offensive zone and second and third opportunities, multiple shot shifts,” Cavanaugh explained. “If you’re not doing that, you’re not going to have sustained scoring. It’s just [like] in football, you have to have a running game. If you’re going to completely rely on your passing attack, sometimes things are going to go wrong.”
There are few things that have gone wrong for the Huskies as of late, with a plethora of goals and goal scorers.
“We’ve scored six goals in back-to-back games and I don’t think anybody has two in a game. We’re getting six different goal scorers and that, to me, shows that we have a lot of depth on our team,” Cavanaugh said. “That, to me, is more important than just a couple of guys carrying the team. When you’re getting contributions up and down your lineup, that usually means your team is in sync, has a good rhythm and is playing really well.”
The only thing that holds these goals and the scorers back, however, is coming up short on the power play. Cavanaugh admitted that “It kept me up the other night,” in reference to puck fumbles this season where the Huskies miss their chance to score with their opponent down a skater. However, the UConn power play isn’t a force to be disrespected.
“The thing I like about it is what I’m watching in practice, I like the energy of our power play, how they’re performing in practice,” Cavanaugh said. “I think it’s a matter of time before the power play’s going to be scoring some big goals for us … and it has.”
He proves this argument, recalling “The last BC game, they scored the goal to put us ahead. In Merrimack, we’re down a goal and a big power play goal tied the game and all of a sudden, we got two quick ones after that. It has scored at some big times this year. I have a lot of faith in it and while the numbers might not be where they are now, it’s the next one that’s the most important power play and that’s what we’re going to stay focused on.”
The Huskies are definitely focused on the next one, and look to keep their scoring and winning streaks going in Boston, practicing this week to have something to show for any power play chances they can create on Friday night. Their opportunities await at 7 p.m. on the Kelley Rink in the Conte Forum. Catch the action on NESN plus or SportsLive.