When Mike Cavanaugh accepted his new job in May, his first act as UConn hockey coach was to pick up the phone.
"A friend of mine said, 'Congratulations, and now you have to call Matt Grogan,'" Cavanaugh said.
Grogan, the Huskies' goalie, spent three-plus years on the bench before taking over as the team's top goalie near the midway point of 2012-13 and becoming one of the top players at his position in the region.
Grogan had announced he would return in 2013-14 for a final year of eligibility. Cavanaugh, who would become the Huskies' third coach in six months, wanted to make sure nothing had changed for a player who offers such stability for a program in transition. The Huskies, still getting used to new systems under Cavanaugh, will join Hockey East next season but are focused, for now, only on trying to win Atlantic Hockey for the first time.
"He called me and he just told me that he wanted to win," Grogan said. "That's where I'm at, too. That made me comfortable. He's won more championships [as an assistant at Boston College] than anyone I know of. He told me the direction he wanted to go with the team and it all sounded good. And since then, nothing has disappointed me."
The Huskies (6-5-2, 5-2-1 Atlantic Hockey) head into the 21st annual UConn Hockey Classic, being held at the XL Center for the first time, in a really good place. UConn, off to its best conference start in history, begins Sunday with a conference game against Sacred Heart (4-12, 3-7) at 7:05 p.m. The event opens with a matchup between Quinnipiac (13-3-3, 6-2-2 ECAC) and UMass (6-12-2, 2-7-2 Hockey East) at 4:05 p.m. The consolation game is Monday at 4:05, followed by the championship game at 7:05.
"I've been impressed with the effort on a nightly basis," Cavanaugh said of the Huskies, third in Atlantic Hockey behind Mercyhurst and Bentley. "For the most part, every game, our effort and compete level has been excellent. We're committed to doing something. You don't win trophies in the first half of the season; the only thing you can do is put yourself in position to win that trophy later on. From our standpoint, we've accomplished that."
It was in this event last season that Grogan, of Gilbert, Az., was given the opportunity he had waited for. Long stuck behind Garrett Bartus, statistically the best goalie in program history, Grogan was inserted into the lineup by interim coach David Berard, began splitting time with Bartus and soon was playing every game down the stretch of one of the most successful season's in UConn history.
"I haven't really changed anything I've been doing the last few years," Grogan said. "I just try to get work in during practice and make sure I'm ready. It definitely feels good to put the work in and get rewarded. My job is to just stop pucks – whether it's in practice or games. I'm always relaxed. There are times I get fired up but I know how to control it and use it in a good way."
Grogan was 14-4-3 last season with a .937 save percentage and a 1.93 goals-against average. This season, Grogan has played 11 of UConn's 13 games, going 5-5-1 with a .920 save percentage and a 2.55 goals-against average.
"Matt has stepped up at the best times for us," said senior captain Billy Latta, a forward who is second on the team with nine points, behind Shawn Pauly's 10. "For the team to have the amount of confidence we have in Matt, in some ways it allows us to be a little more creative, not as conservative. Knowing you have a really good goalie, it allows you to take chances. At the same time, we don't want to put him in position of having to make a really big save more than necessary, but there's many times he's done that for us."
The Huskies are coming off a pair of one-goal victories over Niagara, with Grogan stopping 51 of 54 shots.
"We definitely have a heck of a goalie," UConn goalie coach Tyler Bilton said. "It starts with his dedication off the ice. I've never worked with a goalie who asks so many smart, important questions in trying to improve. He's very fundamentally sound, challenges well. He's very square, quick laterally and great down low, and he's a student of the game."
What Cavanaugh most appreciates is Grogan's approach. Grogan is probably the most soft-spoken member of the Huskies, the laid-back kid from out West. On the ice, he's unflappable.
"He isn't overwhelmed by the moment," Cavanaugh said. "When he allows a goal, he moves right on to making the next save. He's a really competitive kid who has a short memory. When I started to get to know him, he was really quiet, understated. I like his composure. He never seems rattled. He's always calm and cool. I think that gives the rest of your team confidence."