It’s officially one month until UConn men’s hockey begins its 2021-22 campaign. The Huskies will host Sacred Heart on Oct. 2 at the XL Center — for what will be their first game downtown in 583 days.
Although the players returned to campus this past weekend along with the rest of the student body, UConn won’t start practice until Tuesday, Sep. 7 — head coach Mike Cavanaugh likes to give the team a week to settle in and get a head start on the new semester before opening the preseason.
This is the first time the entire squad has been together since leaving for the summer. While most players will come to Storrs in July for summer sessions, Cavanaugh decided against bringing everyone back.
“I did not know what the COVID protocols were going to be. I didn’t want to put the kids through a tough summer if it was gonna be a lot of worry about contact tracing and all the issues we had to worry about last year. So for that I let them pretty much stay home this summer,” he said.
Instead, only eight players — mostly newcomers — came for the July session. Now that the entire team is back, they’ll spend their first week going through strength and conditioning tests.
“It’s not like you can come here and get ready for the season in one month,” Cavanaugh said. “When they go home, it’s always incumbent on them to make sure they’re diligent with their workouts and their eating habits and prepare for the upcoming season. There’s that old saying: At some point, winter is gonna ask ‘what were you doing all summer?’”
Once the skates go on, UConn is limited to just four hours of on-ice work per week, which Cavanaugh plans to spread out across four, one-hour sessions each week. They’ll have 16 practice sessions before playing Sacred Heart.
The NCAA also recently approved a waiver that will allow programs to play exhibitions against other college hockey programs as opposed to Canadian colleges — the typical opponent for preseason games. This would allow the Huskies (or any other Division I program) to play another NCAA team — it can be Division I, II, or III — or a club squad.
While nothing is set, the option is on the table for UConn.
“With the new rule that came in about an exhibition game, I’m going to explore maybe trying to play an exhibition game on the 29th or 30th (of September),” Cavanaugh said.
With preseason on the horizon, Cavanaugh had no injuries to report. The team also has a high vaccination rate, which should limit any potential COVID-related disruptions during the season.
“We’re very, very close, but we’re not 100%,” Cavanaugh said.
On June 30, the NCAA, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont, and the UConn Board of Trustees all passed various legislation and policies allowing student-athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness. This gives college athletes the opportunity to earn money from endorsements, social media posts, sponsorships, appearances, and more.
The Husky head coach is a supporter of this new opportunity for athletes.
“If they can make some money within the guidelines of the rules, great,” he said. “I don’t have any problem with that.”
However, he doesn’t envision NIL impacting college hockey all that much.
“I think in the end, the quarterback at Alabama, and maybe the point guard at Duke are going to be able to make some money,” he said. “But even if you look around the NFL or the NHL, how many of them really make big endorsement dollars? And then when you filter it down to college, when it’s all said and done, I don’t think it’s going to be a major factor in our sport.”