It’s no secret that UMass Amherst is the reigning national champion for NCAA Division I hockey. This season, the Minutemen haven’t stopped, even for a minute, and they are still at the top of Hockey East rankings and nationally ranked at No. 10.
This puts the Huskies as the literal underdogs ahead of Friday night’s 7:05 p.m. game at the XL Center, where UConn hosts UMass before traveling to Amherst to play on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. for a home-and-home series. Currently, UConn is third among Hockey East standings, and No. 20 nationally.
“Over the past few years, they’ve clearly been the class of the league,” head coach Mike Cavanaugh said.
According to UConn forward Jonny Evans, UMass’ reputation is exactly what’s fueling the team’s energy for the weekend, and the Huskies are thriving on it.
“We just want to prove everyone wrong, because we feel like we get doubted a lot, so we just want to go out there and play our game,” Evans said.
The senior noted how the team and “probably everyone across the nation” are aware of the UMass Minutemen’s talent, but the Huskies aren’t backing down out of intimidation.
“We expect to be there,” Evans said, on UConn’s national rankings. “We expect to move up in the ranks.”
Head coach Mike Cavanaugh affirmed these beliefs but emphasized that they are focusing more on UConn’s impressive 16-11 record and four-game win streak over anything.
“I think the buzz and the excitement is centered more around that we’re right neck and neck in the standings … it certainly doesn’t hurt that they are the defending national champions,” Cavanaugh said.
Although the Huskies aren’t looking at this team differently because of their most recent title, they’re aware of what this weekend means in terms of UConn’s positions for titles.
“We know every game’s a battle and we know first place is on the line this weekend,” said Evans.
Cavanaugh has made microscope and telescope metaphors all season, reminding the team of their next opponent, who is in the immediate view, and then the trophies and titles and bigger games to play down the line. In order to get to those games, however, the team needs to win the ones in front of them first.
“We can’t win a trophy tomorrow night, but we can certainly put ourselves in a better position to win one if we play extremely well and win tomorrow night,” Cavanaugh said.
Speaking of trophies, the Ice Bus sees them every single day, but can’t touch them. Jonny Evans shared that photographs of any possible trophy that the Huskies could win this season are hung up and on display to inspire the team during practices and games.
“It’s game by game … and we know the end result will be a trophy if we all buy in,” Evans said. “We look at [the photo] and that kind of just motivates us to have it actually in our hands instead of a photo of it.”
This motivation is collective, both Cavanaugh and Evans noted, which they each see as the strength of the team lately and look to extend for the rest of the season.
“It’s a lot of balanced scoring up and down our lineup,” Cavanaugh said.
Over the past three games, UConn has scored 18 goals. With the exception of defenseman Jarrod Gourley, no player scored twice in a game. That’s the way the Huskies like it.
“Honestly, no one cares who scores, no one cares who has the points. We’re all buying in, and that’s the great thing about this team; no one really cares about points, we just want to win,” Evans said.
What the team does care about, however, is the atmosphere that they play in. The Huskies have no problem bringing the energy, but they want it to be reciprocated by everyone watching them play as it contributes to their game as well.
“The crowd has a big impact and I hope a lot of fans can come out,” Evans said.