Thursday, November 6, 2014

CAVANAUGH AND UCONN HOCKEY ARRIVE


The biggest man on the campus of UConn Thursday isn't Geno Auriemma, Kevin Ollie,
or even Bob Diaco, who recently led the Huskies to an upset win over Central Florida,
giving the first-year coach his first signature win since taking over the football program.

Nope, the top dog on this gray, drizzly day in Storrs is Mike Cavanaugh, the man who
helped the hockey team pull off the biggest upset of the young hockey season. Wednesday
night in UConn's inaugural game in Hockey East, which is the SEC of the sport and a
conference overflowing with NHL talent, the Huskies, against all odds, slayed the
the third-ranked team in the nation.


Before a rowdy and raucous crowd in Hartford, Cavanaugh guided the team to a 1-0 victory
over Boston College, a national powerhouse and the league's Alabama. The Eagles have
captured four national titles since 2001 and make the NCAA's Frozen Four about as often
as A-Rod lies, which is a lot.

For a program that's been vanilla-flavored since its inception, this victory was the big
cherry that's made UConn a player in the region. Even in the one of the country's smallest
states, the Huskies have received less interest and recognition than somebody in the
witness protection program. They have long been the red-headed stepchild to Yale and
Quinnipiac, but that changed with their win over Boston College Wednesday night.


Cavanaugh, in his second-year with UConn didn't need much of a scouting report on the
Eagles as he spent 18 years working under Jerry York, a legend who has won more games
than any coach in NCAA hockey history.  In a day and age where peripatetic coaches
leave for a nickel more than what they're making, Cavanaugh was a loyal soldier to
York and the Boston College program. He had opportunities to leave but they weren't
good enough to put Chestnut Hill in his rear view mirror. There were job openings that
he got passed over, but that's just life and the way of the coaching world.

The hockey season and his career in Storrs is still in its infancy, but Cavanaugh has
provided UConn, as it ramps up for the year in basketball,  a big spark and another
reason to be proud. The victory is an adrenaline shot that will last for days and one
Cavanaugh hopes fuels the team for the rest of the season.


It's only one win, but it's significant enough to validate Warde Manuel's selection of
Cavanaugh to guide UConn and make it a player in Hockey East, which is a
monumental task. He could turn out to be the Bruce Arians of hockey, a man who
paid his dues, gained tremendous respect, and then flourished when finally given his
chance.

The school's athletic director has a strong background is in football  having played at
the University of Michigan for Bo Schembechler. You could hardly blame him if he
was foreign to Hockey East and the sport. But Manuel knew what he wanted in a
hockey coach and he struck gold.

Cavanaugh is Boston Irish: tough, resilient, demanding, and very loyal. He's also
an incredible family man who puts the salt in the 'salt-of-the-earth' phrase that
you hear bestowed upon really quality people. I saw it first hand while covering Boston
College for NESN several years ago.

I know Cavanaugh and I know how much the victory over his former employer
means to him. He bled burgundy and gold for 18 years. This win means more
to him than being a part of any national championship celebration at Boston College.
He'll enjoy it, celebrate and savor it, but it won't define him.


As great a victory is for his personal coaching career, Cavanaugh knows
this win is all about UConn and it's arrival in Hockey East. Oh, sure, there will
be some major speed bumps and hardships the rest of the season, as the gauntlet
of the league will test a team's talent and often wear it down.

But Cavanaugh has made his players believe that anything is possible and they
shouldn't take a backseat to no one, not even Boston College.

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