When news broke Tuesday that long-time Boston College associate coach Mike Cavanaugh would be the man leading UConn into its hockey future, two names immediately popped into mind:
Pat Mullane of Wallingford.
Dannel Malloy of the state Capitol.
Malloy is a big hockey fan. He went to Boston College. He played an unmistakable role in UConn's decision to upgrade its program, get into Hockey East in 2014 and play games at the XL Center. He rode the wave of the Yale-Quinnipiac ride to the NCAA championship game. The governor is into hockey.
So it has to be asked.
Did Malloy play any role in UConn's decision to hire Cavanaugh? Directly? Indirectly? Subliminally? The whispers were there from more than one corner. When you think about it, the whispers are only natural.
Suspicion, of course, doesn't necessarily equal truth.
"The governor had no role in this," Malloy spokesman Andrew Doba said, "but obviously wishes [Cavanaugh] the best of luck."
A UConn athletics source said that although Malloy was apprised of the final three, he did not endorse any candidate. Which brings us to another outstanding Eagle — in fact, Eagle of the Year Pat Mullane. Whatever led athletic director Warde Manuel to select Cavanaugh as UConn coach, BC's senior captain says it's a terrific choice.
"If it's definitely true, I'm obviously happy for Coach Cavanaugh," Mullane said. "He has four national championships, a ton of Hockey East championships under his belt. He has been as huge a part of the success as anyone else around this place. He has been a great influence on my career at BC."
"He's a great guy for the UConn job. Obviously, it's tough to watch him go, tough for BC hockey. At the same time, it's great to see him get a head coaching job, because if there's a guy who deserves it, it's definitely him."
A cruise through the Internet shows Cavanaugh's name popping up as a candidate for any number of head coaching jobs in recent years. UMass, Ohio State, Providence … on and on. He has been Coach Bridesmaid. A cynic, of course, would say there has to be a reason for this.
Mullane? He says it's baffling.
"You look at what he has accomplished and it's crazy," Mullane said. "It's amazing he hasn't gotten a job, especially the last few years. Selfishly, I've loved having him at BC. I learned so much from him. ... He's a great guy to have around the locker room, too."
Former NHLer Greg Brown, who was a candidate for the Denver job left open by George Gwozdecky's exit, has been defensive coach under Jerry York at BC. Cavanaugh has been coach of the forwards. Mullane said that Cavanaugh also has run the penalty killing unit, one of the best in the nation. He said that Cavanaugh ran the power play in the past.
"When Coach York was out during the year [after eye surgery], Coach Cav took over the bench and did a great job," Mullane said. "He can manage all facets of the team."
"He'll tell you how it is. He is not going to sugarcoat anything. I'll show up at the rink Sunday or Monday after Friday-Saturday games and he'll make sure the clips that need to be in the video are in the video. If I need to work on something before practice, he'll make sure he's out there with me."
Cavanaugh recruited Mullane. Granted, he didn't have to sell hard. Mullane dreamed of playing at BC since he was a kid. He looked up to guys like Ryan Shannon of Darien. He admired the BC captains. He liked the way they carried themselves.
Mullane would go on to carry himself splendidly. Recently signed to play next season with Rockford of the AHL, the Blackhawks' affiliate, Mullane is graduating this month. Last week, he was named one of the two Eagles of the year, given annually to one male and one female senior as outstanding citizens, leaders, scholars and athletes. BC athletics considers it the most prestigious honor.
"For me, choosing BC was easy," said Mullane, who went to Avon Old Farms. "It's where I always wanted to go, but when I talked to Coach Cav, he made sure I didn't second-guess my decision. He told me straight up, 'You won't be handed anything. You've got to work hard for your spot. You'll also be on a team that competes for the national championship every year.' That's extremely positive stuff."
"But look at a guy like our [coveted] freshman Michael Matheson, too. He was down to arguably every school in the country. Coach Cav sold Mike not only on the hockey program, but on his education, and pinpointed what makes our school great. Once he gets a full understanding of UConn, he'll have no problem getting recruits."
The final paperwork was being processed Tuesday and a press conference to introduce Cavanaugh probably will be Thursday. Because there were three finalists, it will be interesting to hear all the details behind Manuel's reasoning. There was known to be great support for Dave Berard among the departmental team involved in the hiring process. His players loved him and, judging from Twitter, are sorely disappointed. He is an impressive guy. Berard picked up the program when Bruce Marshall, beset by personal problems, resigned. Not only did he do a terrific job, after long service as an assistant at Providence, he had one thing that Cavanaugh doesn't — months as interim head coach at Storrs. Granted, it was a relatively small window.
Gwozdecky was the big name. He won two national championships at Denver. He ran a clean, quality program. His credentials are unquestioned. Judging by a few calls I got from old friends in the NHL hierarchy and from statements and emails from some media that cover college hockey, Gwozdecky had lots of support for the UConn job.
Gwozdecky is also 59. If I had to draw a basketball parallel, I'd pick someone like Tubby Smith. Won a national title, been sort of running in place in recent years. The falling-out in Denver revolved around a contract extension. UConn needs to add another assistant. Gwozdecky would have cost more money. Facilities still need to be built. And remember that football and basketball will remain bigger in Storrs. At this point in UConn history, the hard truth is that Gwozdecky might have been too big for the job. And who knows how long his hunger to build a program would have lasted?
So Manuel turned to a guy who has the experience of recruiting the best players in the East, but was still hungry for his first head coaching job.
"UConn hockey is headed in the right direction," Mullane said. "It's a great school with a ton of athletic history. Once Coach Cav [who went to Bowdoin and is from Massachusetts] starts to understand everything with UConn athletics, he'll be great for the program."
"Obviously, I wanted to be at the Frozen Four, but I'm so happy for Connecticut college hockey and the direction it is headed. Quinnipiac and Yale in the national championship, what more can you ask for? With UConn joining the Hockey East, with scholarships now, it's only going to make state hockey stronger. I'm biased, but I believe Hockey East is the best hockey in the country."
So can UConn pull this off?
"Absolutely," he said. "I can guarantee you under Coach Cavanaugh that program becomes one of the elite programs in college hockey."
Maybe the guy who was long overdue to get a head coaching is the right one for the program that was long overdue to take a shot at the big time.