With just four games remaining on its regular season schedule and eight key points on the line, the UConn men’s hockey team will play a crucial home-and-home with Army this Friday and Saturday.
UConn head coach Mike Cavanaugh said that despite the Black Knights’ (3-24-0, 3-20-0 AHA) seemingly inauspicious record and conference standing, a competitive, hard working and often snakebitten team lies hidden beneath the surface.
“I don’t think it’s indicative of their team, and it’s not coach speak,” Cavanaugh said of Army’s record this season. “We played them [on Nov. 1] and it was a really hard-fought game at Freitas. And that was at the beginning of the year. The last (two) Saturday nights they’ve scored four goals and lost 5-4. They’ve had some hard-luck losses, they compete all the time. I know this: if we don’t come ready to play, we won’t win the game.”
The Huskies themselves are coming off of an up-and-down series last weekend with Holy Cross, losing 3-1 on Friday before bouncing back for a 5-0 trouncing of the Crusaders on their home ice on Saturday.
Cavanaugh said he hopes the team learned a valuable lesson in the wake of last Friday’s loss, a game in which the Huskies were outshot 16-5 in the second period: that competing for 30 minutes instead of 60 just isn’t going to get the job done.
“I hope (we) took from that loss that you can’t play 30 minutes of hockey and expect to win,” Cavanaugh said. “I would say that Saturday’s game was probably our most complete game from start to finish. We played a really complete hockey game, defensively, through the neutral zone and offensively all night long, and hopefully one of the things the team takes from that game is that if we’re going to be a championship team, if we’re going to compete for trophies, then we’re going to have to play a complete hockey game for 60 minutes.”
Cavanaugh said that if Army is one thing, it’s disciplined, adding that they are a team that plays an aggressive yet structured brand of defense predicated on a high compete level and a willingness to scrap for every puck.
“They come hard, they compete on every shift,” Cavanaugh said. “There are some teams that play more of a shinny hockey game, they’re very loose defensively and dangerous offensively. [But] Army is going to contest every single puck. They don’t play a loosey-goosey style defense. Everything’s going to be contested, you’re going to have to earn all your second chance opportunities, and defensively we’re going to have to be really strong in front of our own net.”
The Black Knights are a team that has had its fair share of defensive struggles, however. The team currently ranks dead last in Atlantic Hockey in a laundry list of defensive and special teams statistics, namely goals against average (4.36), save percentage (.873), penalty kill percentage (70.8 percent) and shorthanded goals against (nine).
Army has also been leaning heavily on freshman goaltenders Parker Gahagen and Tanner Creel, who were forced to the top of the depth chart after junior netminder Rob Tadazak was lost to injury after a 6-0 loss to RIT on Jan. 17.
Prior to the game on Friday night, UConn seniors Matt Grogan, Brant Harris, Billy Latta and Jordan Sims will be honored as part of the Huskies’ annual Senior Night prior to the initial puck drop.
Cavanaugh, who has only been with the aforementioned seniors for one season, said he will always owe them a debt of gratitude for the way they handled the program’s turbulent coaching turnover over the last few months, as well as for their willingness to go with the flow and adopt his system for the 2013-14 season.
“Their acceptance to the way I wanted to run the program and the style of hockey I wanted to play, and I’ve said this on numerous occasions, that when you have three coaches within the course of one year – almost six months, seven months – that’s hard, that’s hard,” Cavanaugh said. “So for them to basically say, ‘Hey, coach however you want to run this program, whatever style of hockey you want to play, we’re in,’ I will always feel indebted, I’ll always feel gracious to this [senior] group for having that type of attitude.”
Puck drop for Friday night’s game is schedule for 7:05 p.m. at Freitas Ice Forum.