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UConn men’s hockey returns to action, still dealing with COVID-19

The Huskies return to action on Sunday after over a month off.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

As UConn men’s hockey prepares to begin the second half of its season with a game against Harvard on Sunday, COVID problems continue to hamper the team. The Huskies’ final two series before winter break were canceled because of a COVID outbreak within the program that remains an issue.

“We are still dealing with [COVID]. But we’ll meet protocols and we will be fielding a team on Sunday,” head coach Mike Cavanaugh said. “Things are still a little bit unsettled as far as who may be available and who might not be available for Sunday.”

Cavanaugh cannot say which players are in protocols and declined to discuss how many are currently affected. However, anyone who tests positive has a 90-day window where re-infection is unlikely, so the coach is hopeful they’ll have enough players to fulfill the Hockey East requirements of 15 skaters and two goaltenders for the remainder of the season. That doesn’t mean UConn won’t deal with any more cancelations or postponements, though.

“Mentally, it’s just a tough thing. It’s something that you have to continue to deal with,” Cavanaugh admitted. “I think for the rest of the season, we’ll be able to meet the protocol of 15 players and two goaltenders the rest of the way. The other thing that you can’t control is your opponent. At some point, I know one of our opponents might be put in a position where they don’t meet the protocols and we’re not going to be able to play. So it’s just handling the curveballs.”

UConn did not play a single game in December due to both the series postponements and the winter break. The last time the Huskies took the ice was way back on Nov. 27, a 6-1 win over Colgate.

The timing could’ve been worse. Instead of an abrupt stoppage mid-season, the outbreak just sent the team into its winter break early. That’s made it easier for UConn to get back to into the swing of things.

“If there was a good time for this to happen to us, it probably was the beginning of December because you’re going into a break anyway. It just extended our break,” Cavanaugh said. “The fact that it’s going to be a continuous break for us, I think helped.”

When the players returned to campus, they had to pass a conditioning test to make sure they stayed in shape over the holidays. By the time the Huskies head up to Harvard, they’ll have practiced five or six times and lifted twice as well.

That’s a dramatic difference from the 2019-20 season when UConn got back from the break and only had two practices together before heading up to Dartmouth for the Ledyard Classic. Ironically, the Huskies were dealing with a bout of the flu at the time, so they were without a handful of players then as well.

With almost of week’s worth of time together on the ice, Cavanaugh believes they’ll be adequately prepared to play on Sunday.

“Our players came back in great condition,” he said. “Four practices in and there’s just been a ton of energy with our team coming back. You could tell that they’ve missed playing.”

Behind the outbreak

Cavanaugh explained how the outbreak began for the Huskies and also shared some of the team’s protocols.

“We had a player who got sick during the Colgate game and the doctors tested him. They thought it might have just been the flu and he tested positive (for COVID). When he tested positive, then you have to test his roommates and the two guys that sit next to him in the locker room. We played on a Saturday so then we had to wait until Wednesday to test because there’s a five-day window or whatever it is.

“Then two more guys tested positive, so now you have to test their roommates and then the guys that sit next to them and then by Thursday night it went up to six (positive tests) and by Friday morning we had 14 players (available). We were ready to go up to Merrimack but the Hockey East protocol is 15 [skaters] and two goalies and at the time, we didn’t meet that protocol.

“That’s why we had to also cancel for AIC because it was a 10-day quarantine at that point and we didn’t meet protocols the following weekend either.”

Injury report

UConn does not have any injuries at the moment but will likely be missing players due to COVID.

“We’ll have enough to field a team but it won’t be the same lineup we had against Colgate,” Cavanaugh said.

How to watch

Date: Sunday, Jan. 2

Time: 7:00 p.m.

Location: Bright-Landry Hockey Center, Boston, MA

Streaming: ESPN+