On Friday afternoon, UConn men’s hockey traveled up to Hanover, New Hampshire for a matchup with a Dartmouth team that’s an unknown quantity. The Big Green, along with the rest of the Ivy League and a handful of other Division I hockey programs, did not play last season due to the pandemic.
17 of the 28 players on the roster have never appeared in a collegiate game, including four of six defensemen and potentially the starting goaltender. On top of that, Dartmouth has a new head coach in Reid Cashman, who replaced Bob Gaudet after the 2019-20 season.
In comparison, all but four skaters on UConn’s roster played in a college game prior to this year and even two of those freshmen have seen action in at least four games already.
There isn’t much tape on Dartmouth either. Unlike the Huskies, who already have six games under their belt, the Big Green have only played two exhibition games and will open the regular season on Friday night against Harvard.
“We’ll be able to have a baseline of how they’re going to play, having watched them a little bit in exhibitions and certainly getting to see them playing Harvard tonight,” head coach Mike Cavanaugh told The UConn Blog on Friday. “I think it’s more important that we focus on how we play.”
The last line is a common refrain from the coach when playing any opponent early in the year. In fact, he feels the Huskies have already been through a similar game this season: A 6-3 win over Sacred Heart in the season opener.
“I mean, we basically went into Sacred Heart, first game of the year, and they had seven transfers and probably a whole different team than they had two years ago when we played them, so we didn’t have any film on them,” Cavanaugh said.
Still, a team can’t go into a game completely blind in terms of what an opponent plans to do with its power play, penalty kill, forecheck, and other systems. Although UConn’s coaches will get to do some advanced scouting on Friday night, preparation will only help so much. Instead, the Huskies need to be prepared to change things on the fly as the game progresses.
“There’s always in-game adjustments,” Cavanaugh said. “Teams can tweak their power play. A team that’s normally a passive penalty kill becomes a pressure penalty kill and you’ve got to make those adjustments within the game. So those are things that we do all the time.”
Exactly when UConn decides to switch things up depends on both the game itself and the scope of the change. A minor adjustment can be done on the fly by telling it to the players on the bench as they switch lines. Other times, the coaches need to wait for a timeout to implement something different.
Ultimately, Cavanaugh emphasized that teams don’t really change all that much during a single game. So while there will be some adjustments necessary on Saturday — especially against a faceless opponent like Dartmouth — he’d prefer his team to focus on themselves.
“We’re skating and moving our feet and playing with pace and playing physical,” Cavanaugh said. “All the things that make us a good hockey team, those are the things we have to focus on.”
UConn will be without Hudson Schandor (leg) and Jake Flynn (unknown) for a second-straight game. Cassidy Bowes (upper-body injury) and Logan Terness (ankle) have both recovered and will be available for selection on Saturday.
How to watch
Date: Saturday, Oct. 30
Time: 8:00 p.m.
Location: Thompson Arena, Hanover, NH