PROVIDENCE, R.I. — States don’t come any smaller than Rhode Island. In fact, had the California wildfires earlier this year occurred in this neck of the woods, the entire Ocean State would have been wiped out.
So it was hardly a surprise that there was only one Rhode Island native in the Harvard and St. Cloud lineups as the Providence Dunkin’ Donuts Coffee Pot tournament debuted on Dec. 27.
Fittingly, though, the native son christened the tourney at 5:23 of the first period. Although in a losing cause, Tom Cavanagh’s deflection was nonetheless apropos of the setting. He’d grown up in Warwick, a mere 20-minute drive from downtown Providence, and even took the Civic Center ice twice while in high school.
His goal, not to mention two assists and his resulting honor as the game’s number two star, matches the way in which this season has unfolded for the Crimson. Cavanagh has scored goals in four of Harvard’s six wins and assisted on two in another. His nine goals lead the team.
This emergence has been no surprise to many Crimson observers. In his first two years at Harvard, Cavanagh totaled 22 goals and 30 assists despite being relegated to third-line center behind Dominic Moore and Brett Nowak.
“Everyone is always itching for ice time,” Cavanagh said. “You always want to play more. But I knew my role last year and I was happy with that.”
After the graduation of those two stars, though, the brightening of Cavanagh’s own light seemed predictable.
“We only lost a few guys from last year, but they took up a lot of ice time,” he said. “So for me and a lot of other guys, too, we’re getting a lot more ice time. It gives us a chance to make more of a difference in a game; it’s something you have to be prepared for.”
Not surprisingly, Harvard coach Mark Mazzoleni is delighted with Cavanagh’s shouldering of the bigger role.
“He was playing behind a kid [Moore] who [has been] in the NHL and one [Nowak] that plays for the Providence Bruins,” Mazzoleni said. “So he had to patiently wait his opportunity. Had Tom been on a different team, he would have been involved in more key situations, but he’s very much seized the moment now.
“He’s been very consistent for us this year. He’s a kid who comes out hard every night.”
Perhaps some of the credit goes to good bloodlines. Cavanagh’s father, Joe, was a three-time All-American (’69, ’70, ’71) and is a member of both the Beanpot and Harvard Varsity Halls of Fame. His uncle, Dave, was also a significant Crimson contributor.
Whatever the case, you won’t find Tom Cavanagh tooting his own horn. The soft-spoken junior responded to questions about his goal by saying, “It hit my leg and went in. It was a fortunate bounce.”
And as for the unique honor of being the native son to kick off the scoring in a tournament’s debut, he said, “It’s nice to be close to home, but all-in-all it’s just another tournament. It’s just another game.”
Not exactly a sportswriter’s dream. But very much a coach’s and teammate’s dream.
“Tom is a very hard-working, quiet guy who oftentimes goes about his business without a lot of recognition,” Harvard goaltender Dov Grumet-Morris said. “He’s not the type of kid who pays attention to the superfluous — distractions or titles such as [last year and] who’s the number one or the number three center. That’s a testament to him. He doesn’t let anything get in the way, no distractions from outside the rink. He comes to the rink every day with an attitude ready to play. It shows in the games and the practices.”
Having lost to St. Cloud, Cavanagh showed just such a focus when asked about his personal goals for the rest of the season.
“Right now, we’re just focusing on tomorrow,” he said. “We have to put tonight behind us and just move forward and try to get better every single game.”
Thanks to Jessica Lee and Jim Connelly for their contributions.