UConn hockey starts off big week with tie against RPI
HARTFORD – This is what Mike Cavanaugh envisioned when he took over as UConn hockey coach last season.
Along with the much-anticipated jump to Hockey East, he pictured unprecedented fan support and all-around positive vibes surrounding the program.
It’s early, but you can easily see what he speaks of. Cavanaugh’s team opened a huge homestand this week with a 1-1 tie versus RPI Tuesday night before 3,879 at the XL Center.
Two home games in, the Huskies have averaged 5,984 at the gate. Around 5,000 fans are expected for Friday’s home tilt against Vermont and a potential sellout of over 8,000 is slated when Boston University pays a visit on Saturday.
In previous seasons, UConn’s attendance usually ranged from 500-1,000 at the Freitas Ice Forum on campus in Storrs. Now, fans need to make early plans to secure tickets or risk being turned away at the door, like many were at the home opener against Boston College.
Quite a contrast. And a welcomed one for the program.
“I thought it was a great crowd for a Tuesday night game,” Cavanaugh said. “Playing RPI, it’s not a league game, or a team fans are really familiar with, and to have (almost) 4,000 people come out tonight, we’re very happy with support we got.”
A support system Cavanaugh expects to see grow larger.
“This is exactly what I expected from this fan base,” Cavanaugh said. “If we keep competing and putting forth that effort on the ice, they’ll keep coming back.”
That effort was evident on Tuesday, even though it did not result in a win.
The Huskies (2-5-4, 1-2-1 in Hockey East) recorded their highest shot total of the season with 34, highlighted Joey Ferriss’ second period goal on a breakaway, assisted by David Drake.
It gave UConn a 1-0 advantage, but the Huskies suffered a big blow at the end of the second when the Engineers tied it up on a power play goal with 2.3 seconds left. Drew Melanson scored off a beautiful feed from Matt Neal on the weakside of a helpless Rob Nichols.
UConn, though, used the goal as a rallying cry, dominating the third and out-shooting the Engineers, 13-4. However, RPI goalie Scott Diebold stopped them all, and caught a big break when Shaun Pauly’s breakaway attempt missed the net with 3:03 remaining.
“They’ve been pretty resilient and have been all year long,” Cavanaugh said. “It did not surprise me that we came out and played real well in the third period.”
In OT, RPI controlled the puck and registered seven shots, but Nichols (24 saves total) was able to push them aside to secure the tie for the Huskies.
RPI coach Seth Appert, whose team is now 5-7-1, was impressed with UConn.
“UConn is very good,” he said. “They made the game very hard on us. You can see why they’ve had some success against some very good teams.”
That success includes wins over Quinnipiac and Boston College, a tie at Boston University and a one goal loss to Vermont.
This is a great time for the Huskies to gain the local spotlight with the UConn men’s basketball team playing in Puerto Rico this week, the women’s hoops team coming off their first loss since 1934 on Monday, and the football team playing out the stretch of a tough season.
A large number of people will be on hand to watch them this weekend and a couple of good performances may go a long way in building an even bigger following for this team.
It’s already grown exponentially. And, as Cavanaugh sees it, it’s only the beginning.