UConn men’s hockey will end the regular 2021-2022 season this weekend in a two-game series against the University of Vermont.
“We’re just looking forward to finishing the season and playing as well as we can going into the playoffs, that’s kind of our focus right now,” head coach Mike Cavanaugh said to the press on Thursday.
As has been the mantra all season, the Ice Bus is focused on the weekend ahead and how it can contribute to more weekends beyond the regular season, aiming to be in the best position possible. For this upcoming series, however, UConn has some extra homework to do in studying UVM, as it’s been a while since the teams have faced each other.
“It’s been two years,” Cavanaugh said. “I don’t know if that’s ever happened in my career, where we haven’t seen a team.”
Nonetheless, senior forward and alternate captain Marc Gatcomb isn’t intimidated and claims that the team is more than ready to take on the Catamounts.
“Our team is extremely deep; we can play with anyone,” Gatcomb claimed, as UConn plays this weekend with the intention of playing several more teams in the playoffs.
As of right now, UConn is No. 5 in Hockey East. However, the Huskies are not currently ranked according to USCHO.com, but did receive 19 votes in the poll. This is a drop from last weekend as it was the Northeastern Huskies who came out on top for both games of the series.
With an overturned goal in one game and a costly penalty in the other, Cavanaugh and the rest of the Ice Bus emphasized that they are ready to move past the Northeastern series, learning from the games to prepare for Vermont.
“In this program, it’s never one play, it’s never one call, it’s never one save,” Cavanaugh said. “It’s never one thing that determines a game, it’s a collection of different circumstances and plays throughout a game that dictate usually who wins a game.”
Despite being the head coach, Cavanaugh doesn’t take credit for dictating the game, whatever the final result is. He explained that he leaves a great deal of play up to the skaters on the ice, trusting their experience and judgement.
“The last two weekends, we’ve just kind of put lines out there and told them to ‘play hockey’; and it seems to be working,” Cavanaugh admitted.
This isn’t a new concept to Gatcomb, a senior, or any of the other upperclassmen on the team. The alternate captain spoke for his fellow seniors ahead of the weekend and explained their collective thoughts on the final stretch of the regular season. Hockey East standings and postseason positions have been at stake for the past couple of series, but the Ice Bus seniors are faithful in their experiences no matter what’s on the line.
“We always talk about how we have a mature team. Our team’s pretty old so we have a lot of games under our belts, so I don’t think pressure’s a big thing,” Gatcomb said. “We just try to eliminate it and play our game and then good things will happen.”
Cavanaugh emphasized the team’s maturity, crediting their overall development beyond hockey to make this team what it is today.
“They’ve had to endure a lot in their four years but the thing I’m most proud of, is watching them mature as people on and off the ice, and just getting better every year,” Cavanaugh said with pride. “I think this year’s the most points we’ve ever had in the league, I believe. Just watching them continue to get better and better, for me, that’s a sign that our program is going in the right direction. We have so many seniors this year, which means that we’re retaining our seniors, our players and they’re continuing to develop and get better. I’m really hoping we can send these seniors out the right way.”
The oldest members of the Ice Bus are hoping for the same thing, and they know exactly how to navigate the Bus the right way.
“I think we all know what we have to do: we just have to show up and play,” Gatcomb stated. “If we show up, I think we can play with anyone in the country.”
It’s UConn’s game versus everyone else’s, with the Huskies looking inwards to keep the Ice Bus moving. Despite the fact that Vermont beat Northeastern earlier this week, 1-0, it’s not throwing UConn off of its course for a postseason run.
UVM comes to Connecticut with a 7-23-2 overall record and 5-15-2 in Hockey East, ranking them No. 10 in the conference.
Before this group of seniors, the Ice Bus has only finished in fifth or better. In the past three years, UConn has closed out the season consecutively in at least that position or better and they are on track to do it again this season.
“We just want to play very, very well this weekend,” said Cavanaugh. “We also understand that we can play very well this weekend and maybe finish in fifth, that could happen.”
Ultimately, regardless of the scores, Cavanaugh expects the team to reach the peak in terms of their play. This is especially true for the seniors, where he looks to for leadership.
“I feel like our seniors are playing the best hockey of their careers right now,” Cavanaugh said. “When you recruit a player, you always look at the ceiling; never the floor. So, when we recruited them, I somewhat had expectations that they would become these types of players that they are today.”
Today, there are several seniors and graduate students who have risen to lead this team to what they believe will be their year, and Cavanaugh takes a similar position.
“To be able to have a team that has a lot of experience playing in Hockey East, I think that’s something that we’re going to have to rely on to extend this season,” the coach said.
However, this is where the coach and Gatcomb disagree.
“Everyone who’s been in this program kind of contributes to it, so I don’t think it’s just necessarily our class,” Gatcomb said, speaking to the depth he believes UConn has, looking forward to what each player will bring to the ice for the UVM series and beyond.
The seniors will look to improve the team’s 17-14-0 record and 13-9-0 conference record as a means of keeping their possible last season with the Ice Bus rolling as long as they can to reach the ultimate destination: a title.
The puck drops at 7 p.m. on Friday and at 3:05 p.m. on Saturday, with both games at the XL Center. Friday night’s contest will be broadcasted on ESPN 97.9. Saturday’s game is the senior game and players who are moving on after this season will be recognized, with coverage on CW20.