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UConn men’s hockey not running from past playoff struggles

The Huskies are trying to use their lack of postseason success as motivation, not a weight around their neck.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

UConn men’s hockey has been in Hockey East for eight years now and it’s yet to secure a win in the league tournament. The Huskies are 0-9 all-time in the Hockey East Playoffs with series losses to UNH (2015), Vermont (2016), Northeastern (2017) and Boston University (2018) along with a single-elimination defeat to Providence last season.

It’s an ugly record, but UConn’s current senior class has only played in one of those games — last year’s loss to the Friars. As freshmen, Hockey East changed the playoff format so that only the top eight teams made it. The Huskies finished ninth.

The next year, UConn earned the fifth seed and was set to travel up to Maine for a best-of-three series when COVID-19 shut everything down. With the pandemic still a factor last season, Hockey East made the tournament single-elimination, so the Huskies dropped their lone game in the quarterfinals to Providence.

As UConn prepares for a one-off quarterfinal matchup with the BU Terriers on Saturday at the XL Center, the team is more trying to use that history as motivation, not a weight around their neck.

“We talked about it this week,” senior captain Carter Turnbull said of the loss to Providence. “It’s more about just kind of owning it. Yeah, we lost last season but we kind of gotta roll with that. We learned from it and moved on. Yeah, there’s a little bit of something in the back of our head that you just want to get that first win. So I think it’ll fuel us this Saturday.”

After Providence ended UConn’s season in the quarterfinals last year, head coach Mike Cavanaugh conceded the pressure of the postseason might’ve gotten to his team and they ended up being too worried about losing. At the time, he hoped they would learn from the experience.

One later year, Cavanaugh emphasized that same message in practice throughout the week.

“I told the kids this week, I said ‘They don’t call it the worried-offs. They don’t call it the afraid-offs. They call it the playoffs and the teams that play have the best chance to win,’” he relayed. “That’s kind of what we’re focusing on.”

The Huskies’ current group does have a history of responding in a similar way, though. In 2019-20, UConn needed to win its final regular season game against UMass Lowell to earn the fourth seed and home ice for the first time in program history, but the Huskies ultimately fell 3-1 and ended up as the fifth seed. The next year, UConn found itself in the exact same scenario — win and be the fourth seed, lose and be the fifth seed. This time, the Huskies thrashed Providence, 5-3.

UConn hopes it can repeat that trend in the playoffs. That’s the plan, at least.

“We all know that we’re not done. We don’t want to be done,” Turnbull said. “We’ve done regular seasons so well and I would love to be the first to get to the garden and raise that trophy as the first UConn team ever.”

Ultimately, it’ll all come down to 60 minutes on Saturday. As much as the Huskies may want to talk about using last year’s loss as a learning experience, that motivation only lasts up until puck drop. Once that happens, everything — records, history, etc. — goes out the window. At that point, whichever team does enough to win will move on.

“Really the only thing that’s going to determine whether we move on or not after tomorrow is how well we execute and how well we play tomorrow,” Cavanaugh said. “Not what’s happened in the past or not what’s going to happen in the future. It’s only going to be about tomorrow, how well we play and how well we execute for 60 minutes.”

Injury report

After missing last weekend with a lower-body injury, sophomore forward Nick Capone is “trending towards playing tomorrow,” according to Cavanaugh. Meanwhile, freshman forward Chase Bradley, who’s missed the last six games with a lower-body injury, is questionable.

“Just seeing how Chase does today,” Cavanaugh said. “He’s certainly not out for tomorrow but he’s not a definite either.”

How to watch

Date: Saturday, March 12
Time: 4:30 p.m. EST
Location: XL Center, Hartford, CT
Stream: (free)
Radio: UConn Sports Network