Hartford, CT- Mike Cavanaugh took the University of Connecticut’s Head Men’s Hockey Coach job in 2013 after a decorated run as an assistant to Jerry York at Boston College. Coach Cavanaugh led UConn into Hockey East for the 2014-15 season. But across five trips to the Conference Tournament, UConn posted an 0-9 record. Most memorably, the Huskies dropped two bitterly contested matchups in the 2018 Hockey East Tournament at Agganis Arena to the eventual Hockey East Champion Boston University Terriers.
On Saturday afternoon, UConn hosted their first conference playoff game at the XL Center with fans. The 2020-21 season saw UConn host Providence in an empty on-campus building. And with a raucous crowd behind them, the Huskies finally punch their ticket to the Hockey East Semi-Finals at TD Garden.
UConn jumped off the blocks hot, outshooting the Terriers 18-10 in the opening frame. Terrier goalie Drew Commesso kept BU afloat in the frame until late. Minnesota Wild draft pick Vladislav Firstov wired a beautiful shot for his 10th goal of the season and a 1-0 Husky lead with four minutes left in the opener.
The second period was a dead heat for the most part. UConn outshot BU 10-9 and each team took a fair share of physical hits at each other. Terrier Head Coach Albie O’Connell described the matchup as a “football game”. UConn ultimately benefited and capitalized on the physical pace. Jonny Evans capped a mad scramble near the frame’s middle point and extended the lead to 2-0.
As BU has done all season, their talent woke up when desperate. The Terriers outshot the Huskies 20-8 in the third period and with 6:59 left in their season, Carolina Hurricanes draft pick Domenick Fensore put BU on the scoreboard and within striking distance of the lead. BU pulled their goalie for an extra attacker but to no avail. Union College graduate transfer Darion Hanson stopped 19 of the 20 shots faced in the third period to run his game total to 38 saves, second most in his season after only a 43 save effort against these same Terriers on October 8th, in what was Hanson’s second game as a Husky. Detroit Red Wings draft prospect Chase Bradley delivered the knockout punch with the empty netter with 10 seconds left and the crowd went ballistic for UConn’s first Hockey East playoff win, a 3-1 triumph, and first ever trip to the Hockey East Semi-Finals.
BU ends their season 19-13-3. Drew Commesso stopped 33 of 35 shots faced and gave his team a chance.
“It was a tight hockey game, playoff hockey game,” said Terrier Head Coach Albie O’Connell. “A lot of tackling both ways. Not a lot being called.I thought UConn played a really good game. I thought after the first period we played a really good game. They had a way better start than we did.”
Seniors Ty Amonte and Logan Cockerill conclude their Terrier careers witha Hockey East Championship, two NCAA Tournament appearances, and this year’s Beanpot. Max Kaufman and Joseph Campolieto both transferred to BU for the 2020-21 season and helped BU to the Beanpot and last year’s NCAA Tournament appearance.
UConn improves to 19-15-0. That’s the most wins in Coach Cavanaugh’s time in the Nutmeg state and tied for the program’s DI wins record with the 2000 season, when the Huskies won the MAAC Hockey crown for their only Conference Title banner to date, and the 2012-13 season.
“That’s a really good team,” said Cavanaugh of the Terriers. “We knew they were gonna make a push. And I was really proud of our guys. We bent, but we didn’t break. Looking forward to going back to the Boston Garden. It’s been nine years, and I’m looking forward to getting back.”
Darion Hanson’s win was his 19th, setting the UConn DI record for single season wins and ties the all-time wins record shared with Doug Michals (1992) and Damen Dawson (1993).
“I think a big piece of being successful in the playoffs is blocking out the noise,” commented the East Bethel, MN, native. “We’ve been up going into third periods before. It’s nothing we haven’t handled. Our guys were playing great. I trusted them. For me, it was about shaving off minutes one by one.”
UConn advances to their first ever Hockey East Semi-Final. They will matchup with the 2022 Conference Regular Season Champion Northeastern Huskies. Puck drop at TD Garden is slated for 4 pm ET on Friday, March 18th.
The other HEA Semi-Final is a rematch of the 2021 Conference Championship game between the UMass-Lowell RiverHawks and the defending Conference and National Champion UMass Minutemen. Puck drop for that game is scheduled for 7:30 pm ET.