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Boston College men’s hockey coaching candidate profiles: Mike Cavanaugh

Boston College v Connecticut Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images

In some ways, the timing couldn’t be better for Mike Cavanaugh to see the Boston College job open up if it’s something he’s interested in.

Cavanaugh, the long-time BC assistant, just steered UConn to its best season since making the jump from Atlantic Hockey and in to Hockey East eight years ago, and would undoubtedly be a name in consideration for any of the marquee job openings in college hockey.

After working as Jerry York’s assistant from 1995-2013, Cavanaugh took the UConn job in 2013-14, their final season in Atlantic Hockey. Though UConn’s recruiting markedly improved in Cav’s first years with UConn in Hockey East, the rebuild was still pretty slow, and UConn finished below .500 in each of their first five years after moving up.

Cavanaugh and the Huskies started to turn the corner in the COVID-impacted years of 2019-20 and 2020-21, finishing 12-10-2 and 10-10-2 in Hockey East in those two seasons while also continuing to steer some NHL-caliber talent through Hartford.

This past year was UConn’s coming out party, and while their 20-16 overall mark wasn’t good enough to make the NCAA tournament, they made it all the way to the Hockey East final at TD Garden and pushed UMass to overtime, putting themselves once bounce away from a Hockey East title and a trip to the dance. The night prior, UConn shredded Northeastern to get themselves to the final - one week after ending BU’s season. UConn also had a competitive split with UMass in a late regular season series, and won the season series with BC including their first ever win at Conte Forum.

In addition to UConn’s steady improvement, Cavanaugh has also been impressive in attracting NHL draft picks to a program that didn’t have any NHL pedigree. 7 draft picks are currently on UConn’s roster, and Cavanaugh also recruited former first round pick Tage Thompson, and 2nd-rounder Max Letunov.

When looking at the pros and cons of Cavanaugh as a potential candidate, a major ‘pro’ is obviously Cavanaugh’s tenure alongside Jerry York, where he was present for the best years of BC hockey and learned under the best coach of all time.

His overall record at UConn as a head coach is more of a mixed bag. You could argue on the one hand that with the more immediate national success Norm Bazin (Lowell), Nate Leaman (Providence) and of course Greg Carvel (UMass-Amherst) had turning around teams that were floating in the cellar of Hockey East, that UConn’s trajectory isn’t quite quick enough to justify putting Cavanaugh as the frontrunner for a marquee job like BC.

On the flip side, Cavanaugh arguably had to deal with a much tougher rebuild in that they had to move the program up from Atlantic Hockey, and didn’t have the full complement of scholarships or anything resembling a real D1 caliber arena - functionally acting as an expansion team upon entering Hockey East and having to build essentially from scratch.

Even once moving up, UConn faces some challenges those other programs don’t face, including the arena not being on campus and a general lack of hockey history.

The word around town at BC on Cavanaugh is always that he and Greg Brown each brought value to the program due to their contrasting styles. Brown was known as being a bit more on the more reserved side like Coach York, while Cavanaugh was the more emotive of the two. Cavanaugh was also known at BC for being dogged on the recruiting trail and was part of bringing in years of great players to the Heights - recruiting success he carried over in to his tenure at UConn.

Cavanaugh is not a BC alum, one of the only candidates floated at this point who isn’t. He’s a North Andover, MA native who played his college hockey at Bowdoin. But BC probably won’t and shouldn’t be shackled to the idea of having an alum as head coach, even though it’s a factor worth considering.

With arguably the best job in eastern college hockey now available, the sole factor needs to be picking the best coach for the job; Mike Cavanaugh’s record offers plenty of fodder for making an argument as to whether he fits that bill.

Either way, Cav’s name will no doubt be heavily linked to BC in the coming weeks, so keep an eye out.

Nathan Strauss, a UMass hockey student radio announcer, was boosting the Cav rumors last night:

Of course, this contradicts reporting in both the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald that Coach York has made it clear to Pat Kraft that it’s Kraft’s process to steer and that York didn’t want to have an undue influence, beyond encouraging giving a chance for his current deputies to interview.

So we’ll see. The $1.9 million buyout is likely to not be a factor here; BC will get the guy they want. Will that guy be Cavanaugh? Stay tuned.