Susie Cavanagh has painted signs and slapped the glass in more than a few family cheering sections at Schneider Arena. On Sunday, the Cavanagh family was back, but Susie wasn’t in their section.
She was on the ice.
The Warwick native and Pilgrim graduate is the latest Cavanagh to skate in the Division I college hockey ranks. Her University of Connecticut team took on Providence College in a Hockey East tilt on Sunday afternoon.
While Cavanagh only played a handful of shifts as she continues her adjustment to college hockey and the Huskies lost 1-0, it was still a day to remember – in a season to cherish – for the freshman forward.
“I’m happy,” Cavanagh said after the game. “Playing Division I hockey is exactly what I wanted to do. I just want to keep it going from here, keep improving.”
Cavanagh has uncles and cousins who played college and professional hockey, and she used to watch cousins John and Dave skate for the Friars. That made Sunday’s homecoming – at the same rink, no less – even more special.
“I remember being here watching my cousins play,” she said. “That inspired me.”
That spark of inspiration has carried her a long way.
She began her high-school hockey career with the Warwick girls’ hockey co-op team. After one season, she made the decision to try out for the boys’ team at Pilgrim, always with an eye on bettering her game for her ultimate goal. She played three years for the Pilgrim boys, emerging as a steady contributor by her senior season. She was also a field hockey and golf standout for the Patriots.
After graduating in 2012, Cavanagh transitioned back to the girls’ hockey world with a year at Cushing Academy. She served as a captain despite being in her first season in the prep school ranks.
“Prep school definitely helped,” Cavanagh said. “The competition is a lot better. It was a fun year.”
Even after a successful season, though, Division I hockey was not a guarantee.
“It was tough because I was late in the game,” she said. “It’s tough to get people to come watch games at Pilgrim, and I don’t think I was on the right tournament team. I wasn’t really seen much.”
UConn presented the best opportunity, but Cavanagh would still have to earn her spot with new head coach Chris MacKenzie taking over.
“No one knew their spot yet,” Cavanagh said. “If he didn’t need me, he didn’t need me.”
In the fall, Cavanagh earned the spot she’s always wanted, and finding out she made it was a pinch-yourself moment.
“It worked out,” she said. “I’m here.”
Cavanagh has played in all 26 of UConn’s games, and has scored two goals. She tallied her first career goal Nov. 6 against No. 10 Boston University. She scored again on Nov. 29 against Yale.
The Huskies are 7-17-2.
“It’s definitely different and a big step up, but I love the challenge,” Cavanagh said. “I love the team, love the atmosphere, the school is great. It’s been fun. I’m just trying to earn the minutes I can.”
Sunday was Cavanagh’s second homecoming. The Huskies played at Brown earlier in the year, and a host of family members were on hand for that one, too. On Sunday, the crew was back in full force, with signs taped to the glass. One read, “No. 21 on the ice, No. 1 in our hearts.”
“It’s definitely really cool to have them here,” said Cavanagh, who is one of Richard and Melinda Cavanagh’s 13 children. “They’re great. It’s nice to look up and see all the faces I know.”
Cavanagh would have liked to give her family a better show, but her minutes were limited. A game like that, though, just fuels the desire even more.
She’s gone from the stands to the ice – and doesn’t plan on leaving.
“It makes you want to play, it makes you want to get there,” she said. “I’m learning every game, whether I’m on the ice or just watching. It’s great experience. Hopefully in the future, I can get some ice time and just keep getting better.”