I spent some time at Freitas Ice Forum on the UConn campus Tuesday, watching the Huskies wrap up one of their final preseason practices. UConn boards a plane Thursday morning – Bradley International direct to Minneapolis, then about an hour bus ride to Mankato, where on Friday and Saturday UConn plays Minnesota State to begin the 2013-14 season and the Mike Cavanaugh era.

What a time for the program. Last season was bizarre (with Bruce Marshall taking leave, then resigning, and David Berard coaching the Huskies to their first winning season since 1999-00). UConn finished 19-14-4 and lost an Atlantic Hockey semifinal to Mercyhurst. Active offseason, too, as the coaching search played out. Cavanaugh was hired over Berard, now the director of operations at Providence, his alma mater.

The players have been through a strange time – unprecedented winning last season, now getting adjusted to their third coach in less than a year, Hockey East coming up next season, quest to win an Atlantic Hockey title for now, etc.

There’s a good vibe coming from the coach’s office and the locker room. I spoke to Cavanaugh and seniors Jordan Sims and Matt Grogan.

Some ice chips to chew on …

--The Huskies will be without three of their top nine forwards for Friday’s opener, and senior captain Brant Harris will miss 6-8 weeks with an MCL injury sustained in practice.

“It is what it is,” Cavanaugh said. “Look at the Patriots [and all their injuries] and they're still finding ways to win games. At the end of the year, the NCAA isn't going to say 'Don't count that loss because Brant Harris wasn't there,' so you have to find a way to win. They're jumping up to the challenge. I'm excited about it. It's going to be really challenging, these first three games, especially without Brant. Because he's our [Cam] Neely. That's how he plays.”

Also, Billy Latta, another senior captain, has been suspended for the opener and sophomore forward Patrick Kirtland suspended two games for a violation of team rules.

-Sims on the preseason: “It's been good. We've really been bearing down with the new systems, getting those integrated with the new coaches. Besides that, we've just been focusing on battles -- 1 on 1, 2 on 2, out-working each other."

-Sims on the staff change: “There's always a transition period, getting associated with the new coaches and the way they coach, and they get associated with us and the way we respond to coaching. But our team is still a good, strong nucleus. Everyone was a little sad [to see Berard go]. I was with him two years, the other seniors too. But we just had to move on. He told us that at the end of the year banquet. I got to meet [Cavanaugh] over the summer -- I was here all summer – and the other coaches. We got to start our relationship together. I really like our new coaches and I'm excited to get going.”

-Cavanaugh cut the roster from 32 to 27. He said, “That was tough for a lot of guys. That's something that is never fun. That's something that, as long as I'm here, we'll never have cuts again in October. It's just an unfortunate set of circumstances that was in place when I got here. There were 32 players and that's just too many to carry for the year. It was not a fun experience for any of us. Sometimes it's easy if you have a couple jerks on the team; it's easy to cut them. But I had to cut some really quality people, and that was tough.”

-Cavanaugh on the team: “The enthusiasm and passion these kids bring to the rink every day, they're really coachable and willing to learn. That's really half the battle in coaching. We haven't seen them in game situations, and sometimes that will be different, but I am really excited about the group as a whole. I think the kids, fundamentally. They play the right way, and that's a strength. Time will tell. Everything has been great through practice, scrimmages. It's not like playing against another jersey. So we'll see. But I like the group a lot.”

-Sims on Cavanaugh: “A lot of attention to detail, focusing on the little things. He has this saying, ‘Look at things through the microscope before you look at things through the telescope. Focus on day-to-day, game-by-game. We all want to win an Atlantic Hockey championship. That's what we each wrote on our goal sheets. But it's going to take one game at a time to get there. I hope this weekend we go show what we're made of, show we can hang with the best teams in the country -- not just hang but compete and beat them. We're going up there for nothing less than two wins.”

Cavanaugh on microscopes and telescopes: “I say to them that it's important that we have a telescope. When we look through that telescope, we see the Atlantic Hockey league championship. But in the microscope, how good can we be today in practice? You have to have long-range goals. But if we don’t focus on today's practice, we'll never accomplish that goal. Minnesota State is under our microscope right now.”

-No true update on a new facility, as a spot on campus hasn’t even been finalized in planning, but the goal (the hope, anyway) is to have it ready for play in January of 2017. UConn will play most of its home games on campus this season at Freitas. Expect the Huskies to play NONE on campus next season or the season after. The vision is to play every home game at the XL Center for two years after this season and then start playing in the new campus faculty during the third year of Hockey East.

-The home opener is Friday, Oct. 25, against Union. “We come back, no matter how it goes up [in Minnesota], we'll be excited to get home, have our fans come out and have a good stretch of home games [five in a row],” Sims said. “What we need to work on [this month] is still our systems, playing in our systems. Everything is a work in progress. I think if we focus on that, paying attention to the new systems and executing as quickly as possible, that will be something we need to work on.”

-Grogan, 14-4-3 with a 1.93 GAA last season, on carrying over momentum from last season: “All the guys are excited. We put all this work in the last couple of months to start playing, to know it's a game week, is exciting. They beat us last year [in the UConn Hockey Classic championship game], so we want to make up for that. I think the success we had last year will help carry into this year. We lost in the tournament but we ended the season on a high note. Everyone is really excited to carry it on and see what we can do this year.”

-Grogan on Cavanaugh’s attention to detail: “Oh, yeah. He's real thorough. I feel confident with him in control of everything.”

-Grogan on what he sees from the goal, looking out: “I think we're moving the puck really well, especially the D. That will be nice to see in games this weekend. We definitely want to win [Atlantic Hockey]. I don't have any years of Hockey East. But even guys that do, they want to win this year. I know that's the feeling throughout the locker room and that's really important to have.”

-Cavanaugh on expectations: “The hardest part to winning a championship is getting a guys to believe they can win a championship. At BC, we had six straight losing seasons and then finally we took off toward the end of one of those years and we go on to win the Hockey East championship. Nobody could believe we had done it. That was the hardest one. Once you win that first one, everybody gets excited and starts expecting to win championships. I'm sure Jim Calhoun or Geno Auriemma will tell you the same thing. You want to keep going back for more, and the kids believe they can keep going back. Dave Berard did a great job of getting these guys in a position where they were competing for the Atlantic Hockey title last year. So they have that taste in their mouth. So one of the things that I have not had to do, which has made it really easy for our staff, is make them believe they can win an Atlantic Hockey title -- because they were close last year. They really believe already that they can win it.”

Cavanaugh on approach: “We want to begin the process of playing Husky Hockey. I always tell the kids, don't tell me you're going to work hard. Working hard is automatic. You don't win if you're not going to work hard. That's like applauding a guy who doesn't rob a bank. We're going to work hard; that's part of it. But being mentally focused -- being ready to change when it's your time, if we have a face-off play on we need everyone on the same page, those little things mentally. Those are the things we're really trying to establish.”

Cavanaugh on another key to the season: “Team unity through adversity. At different points in the season, you're always going to face adversity. Being able to handle that and being able to conquer that adversity is important. On this road trip, I'm sure we're going to face adversity. There's probably not a hockey game that goes by where you don't feel like there was a bad call. Are you going to let that paralyze you? Or are you going to kill the penalty and build momentum off it? We're going to get out there and we're going to get a bad bounce. How do we handle that and move on? Those are the things I'm looking for.”

Cavanaugh on not watching much film from last season and starting player evaluation on the ice last month: “I was more into evaluating what I saw. I thought that was the fairest way. I didn't want to pre-judge or have an biases. I’m not sure exactly what they were doing last year [stylistically]. I want to play with pace.”

Cavanaugh on the first five months on the job: “It was really enjoyable the first two or three months, putting stuff in. You're building an organization. Then you have that one really bad day and all of the sudden you think the world is ending. You prepare yourself for it and you know it's going to happen, but until you go through that day -- I get home and tell my wife, 'What did I sign myself up for?' But then she talks you off the ledge and the next day you have that renewed energy. That's been the fun part. You're challenging yourself.”