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February 15, 2013

1-on-1 With York's 1st Lieutenant

Who is this guy Mike Cavanaugh? With all the hullabaloo around Jerry York's coaching record, the Beanpot championship and a tough weekend coming up in Hockey East, you might not remember that York's right hand man has recently earned the 2013 Terry Flanagan Award, given by the American Hockey Coaches Association to honor an assistant coach's body of work. After 18 years at York's side, Cavanaugh is now one of the most highly respected hockey coaches in the country, be it head coach, assistant or associate.

So, it was a delight to be able to sit with him for an hour recently and talk about a variety of things, all which make Boston College one of the most important and respected college hockey programs in the country. The university itself, the team, recruiting, character. Mike Cavanaugh can tell you about it all.

"My father was the high school football coach in North Andover (Ma.) and I played for him and I played baseball for Jim Strobel and I played hockey where my coach was Jim Logue (BC legend and current goalie coach)," he said. "I was fortunate to play for three coaches who had a great influence on me.

"I went to Bowdoin College in Maine because I could play hockey and football there. When I graduated I spent a year playing hockey in England (where he scored 62 goals in 28 games.) It wasn't a real competitive league, but I enjoyed living in London," he said. "I came back home and coached with the football team at Bowdoin for four months. But I wanted to coach hockey and I wrote a letter to every Division One hockey coach in the country. I only heard back from George Gwozdecky (the Denver coach was then at Miami) and Jerry York at Bowling Green. Gwozdecky had just filled an opening he had, but I had some good recommendations from my Bowdoin connections, Terry Meagher and Sid Watson, and from Jim Logue. Jerry was close with all three and I got the job as Jerry's graduate assistant. It was a non-salaried job, but I got my Masters degree and taught a few courses.

"Then Jerry helped me get an assistant coach's job at Dartmouth (with pay.) I was there two years. It was a valuable experience because I was on the road a lot recruiting and I made some great contacts. By then Jerry was at BC and he hired me as his assistant when he had an opening in 1995. I've been here ever since."

It took a couple of years for the hockey team to even hint at what would come (they didn't have a wining record until 1997-1998) and it took some time for Cavanaugh to become the type coach and the type person who we see now.

"Jerry really taught me how to act like a professional," Cavanaugh said. "I wasn't very professional when I started. I was young and energetic and I had a 'take-no-prisoners' attitude. I was always yelling at officials. Jerry has been a great calming influence.

"Jerry understands the mission of Boston College, that you are men and women for others. When kids come here he wants them to understand that mission. When you understand that it makes it easy to go out and play your hardest for Boston College."

So where does Boston College get the players who have both the talent and the willingness to fit into such a program?

"When I first got here we decided that we would recruit 'globally.' We decided to get away from the old premise of recruiting just inside Rt. 128. Now we have opened our doors to everyone. Part of our reason was that BU was getting more of the best local kids. Now we have a good ratio between local kids and others. We have Mike Matheson from Montreal and we had Matt Price from Toronto. We had some great Minnesota kids.

"Next year's freshman class has a Minnesota kid, two California kids, three local kids, a Florida kid. It has been helpful because now we will go into Michigan and grab a Nathan Gerbe. We can go into Minnesota and get Ian McCoshen for next year and he is going to be a first round draft pick this year.

"Recruiting is different today. It used to be that we would have to spend more time out in the field and you could find that diamond-in-the-rough. I found Rob Scuderi when I went to scout a goalie. Nowadays all the information is on the Internet.

"But still, each of us (York, Greg Brown and Cavanaugh) try to see each kid we are interested in. All three of us go see them. Jerry is probably more involved in recruiting than most Division One coaches," he said. "And we have seen some players who have had all the talent, but we passed on them for other reasons. I was lukewarm on one kid after I saw him yelling at his teammates and then Greg saw him and came back and said that he didn't think he couldn't coach that kind of guy. He played Division One hockey, but not for BC."

What about a kid like Mike Matheson, who was so highly sought after by every college and every Canadian junior league. Do you every worry about them turning pro before they have helped your program?

"I really don't think that is a factor with us. I think you would get in trouble recruiting that way. Would you take Brian Leetch again for one year (BC, 1986-1987)?" he asked. "Our goal as coaches is to get them ready for the NHL. We hope to keep them three years and then we like to see that they come back for their degrees, like Chris Kreider and Cory Schneider. If we think they are ready after three years, all of us on the staff tell them they are ready to go."

Is recruiting easier because of BC's recent success?

"I don't think it ever gets easier," he said. "We still don't get every good player and sometimes they tell us that it is because we have so many good players already. There are so many good programs out there and its never easy when you are recruiting against North Dakota and Wisconsin and Minnesota and Boston University and Harvard."

As for the current team, Cavanaugh thinks he sees the potential for another national championship, despite the dismal months of December and January.

"Rarely will you see a team go through a year without adversity," he said. "Sometimes you see a team coast through the regular season and then when it gets tough at the end they flop. Sometimes you need adversity to get you turned the right way. I have heard some criticisms this winter, but we see things differently. How many teams have no holes as a team? The ultimate winner is not always the team with the best players. Jerry is a genius at getting these kids to believe in team goals."

With that, the conversation turned to the question we were waiting to ask all along. Terry Flanagan Award in hand, will you be Jerry York's successor?

"I don't give a lot of thought to it," he answered, although message boards and chat rooms everywhere ask about the possibility every day. "We tell our team not to live in the past and don't look too far into the future. Keep your focus on today.
"I know that my name has been bandied about for a lot of different jobs, but I've only been interested in a few of them. These are things that I can't control."

If that was your answer for the record, he was asked, what is your off-the-record answer?

"Same answer," he said with a smile. "I am very happy where I am."

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