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Notebook: How UConn men’s hockey and Hockey East officials work together

Plus, a look at the conference standings and some important injury updates.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

UConn’s Nick Capone might only have five points this season (one goal, five assists) but opposing teams always need to know where he is on the ice. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound freshman forward is one of the Huskies’ biggest hitters, a “throwback power forward” type player, as head coach Mike Cavanaugh once described him.

While it’s easy to conflate players that check hard with being dirty, Cavanaugh highlighted Capone as one of the most fundamentally sound hitters on the team.

“Nick hits hard but he hits clean,” the coach said. “His stick is always on the ice and he hits with his shoulder.”

It took some time for Hockey East refs to pick up on that, though. Through his first 10 games, Capone went to the penalty box for roughing three times and elbowing once. Yet over UConn’s last nine games, Capone hasn’t been whistled for a single penalty.

In that time, he hasn’t changed the way he plays and is still good for a couple of big hits per game. Instead, Cavanaugh believes the Hockey East officials have adjusted to Capone, not the other way around.

“I think some of [Capone’s] penalties early were just hitting too hard,” Cavanaugh said. “I think referees got in-tune to the fact that this kid doesn’t play a dirty game. He just hits hard and I think that’s one of the reasons that he hasn’t taken penalties as of late.”

That change has come about in part thanks to Hockey East’s new Supervisor of Men’s Officials, Brian Murphy. A longtime NHL referee himself, Murphy took over the position this summer. Not only does he try to get to as many games as he can, but he also sends out a weekly video breaking down certain penalties from the previous weekend.

“He’s at a lot of games,” Cavanaugh said. “We get weekly videos from him on games throughout the season saying ‘This is too many men on the ice. This is a hook. This is face-off encroachment.’ So he’s pretty good with that.”

Coaches can also go to Murphy with more specific inquiries, whether it be looking for clarification on a certain call from a game or to point out that Capone’s hits are clean, for example. That two-way communication is invaluable information for Cavanaugh, who uses it to coach his players on what they can and can’t do on the ice.

“It’s just as simple as saying, ‘Hey Murph, what do you think of this hit?’” Cavanaugh said. “All you need is clarity and if he says ‘Oh that’s a good hit,’ then you can keep continuing to teach him to hit that way. If he says ‘No, because of this,’ then you have to teach your kid, ‘Alright, listen, we can’t play this way because that’s going to be a penalty.’ So I think that’s where he’s done a great job of providing some clairvoyance to each situation that we’ve dealt with throughout a game.”

Standings watch

UConn is currently in fourth place in the Hockey East Power Index standings. While the Huskies are probably too far back to crack into the top three of BC, BU and UMass, they have a decent — though not insurmountable — advantage over fifth-place Providence and sixth-place Northeastern. Those two schools will play a home-and-home series this weekend, which should help UConn out regardless of how the results pan out.

Injury report

UConn will have freshman forward Hudson Schandor back after he missed the last game with an unspecified injury. Roman Kinal, who hurt his MCL against BC on Jan. 23 and has sat out since, could potentially be back this weekend as well.

“Roman has skated this week,” Cavanaugh said. “There’s a possibility he could be in the lineup for a game this weekend.”

Vladislav Firstov remains out with a lower-body injury and does not have a timetable for a return.

“He hasn’t really skated yet,” Cavanaugh said. “We’re hoping to have him skate early next week. So if he can skate next week — and we’ll know probably sometime this weekend, the doctor will look at him when he’s here over the weekend — next weekend won’t be out of the question.”

The Huskies will also be without Kale Howarth, who was suspended one game for a big hit against BU.

How to watch

Friday, Feb. 25

When: 4 p.m.

Where: Freitas Ice Forum, Storrs, CT

Stream: SportsLive

Radio: UConn Sports Network (97.9 ESPN and affiliates)

Saturday, Feb. 25

When: 4 p.m.

Where: Freitas Ice Forum, Storrs, CT

TV: CW20

Stream: SportsLive

Radio: UConn Sports Network (97.9 ESPN and affiliates)