The UConn Huskies are gearing up for a big year, and they’ve got the slogan to show for it. From the team’s Twitter to banners at pep rallies, it’s everywhere- “It Starts Now.”
They’re moving from the 2,000-person capacity Freitas Ice Forum to the 15-000 person capacity XL center in Hartford… because they’re moving up. Starting on October 18th in a matchup against Merrimack College, the University of Connecticut men’s ice hockey team will become the twelfth team in the Hockey East Conference. They will be the second team added in the conference expansion, following Notre Dame’s addition this past season.
The announcement that UConn would be leaving the Atlantic Hockey Association (AHA) was made back in June of 2012, at the XL Center where the Huskies will now play the majority of their games. The team’s head coach, Bruce Marshall, had been waiting for this for a long time- with the adoption of Title IX, the school had been required to eliminate almost all men’s ice hockey scholarships in order to comply with the gender equality specifications. That, combined with the growing competition found in both ECAC and Hockey East schools for hockey, caused a steep decline in talent for the school’s team. Attendance had dropped, and a player hadn’t gone on to play in the NHL since the early nineties, when Todd Krygier played for the Washington Capitals, Hartford Whalers, and Anaheim Ducks.
The school has added back some of the stripped scholarships, though, and the talent being drawn in is on the rise again. The team’s new head coach, Mike Cavanaugh, is confident that the school has recruited players with the kind of caliber to compete in the Hockey East, which is home to schools such as Boston College, Boston University, and both UMass Amherst and Lowell.
The school will have a number of challenges to face as they move into the new conference.
Cavanaugh is coming to UConn off an eighteen-year stint as assistant coach for Boston College, who is one of the founding members of Hockey East. He comes with more than experience coaching higher-caliber players, though- he also comes with the knowledge of what it’s like to play Hockey East teams “day in and day out”. He warned the players that it’s much harder to play a Hockey East team, turn around, and play another- the juniors and seniors in the program, who were recruited before the announcement was made, have never done this before.
Despite this, though, Cavanaugh has confidence in his new team. “We had some success last season, but it’s different when you play Hockey East teams night in and night out. The kids we recruited for this year, we think they are players who can handle it. We recruited for Hockey East.” No kidding- this season, the team will be playing with the first Husky ever to get selected at the NHL Entry Draft, as freshman defenseman Ryan Segalla was picked up by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the fourth round.
The team has had a steady trend of increased success against this division- last season, they beat two of the three teams they played in out of conference games (they walked away with wins against UMass and Providence, losing only to Boston University), while the team’s overall record against Hockey East organizations is 19-95-6. Hopefully, this year’s team-selected captain- Senior forward Ryan Tyson- will be able to lead his team to victory.