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How 'can opener' and dad jokes provide the secret to UConn women's hockey's success

Head coach Chris MacKenzie likes to keep everyone on the bench loose during a game.

Photo: Ian Bethune

How to watch

Date: Wednesday, Mar. 6

Time: 7 p.m. ET

Location: Toscano Family Ice Forum, Storrs, CT

Stream: NESN (TV) | ESPN+ (Stream)

Boston College Eagles

Record: 15-13-7 (13-9-5 Hockey East)

Location: Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts

Head coach: Katie Crowley (16th season)

Seed: 4

The secret to UConn women's hockey's success? Dad jokes

Chris MacKenzie likes to keep things light. When UConn held the groundbreaking ceremony for Toscano Family Ice Forum, the head coach offered to help with construction, citing various projects around his house such as building a treehouse and putting together an IKEA dresser as his qualifications. He jokes that if he could come back in another life, he’d want to be Cam Wong — his fifth year, all-league defender.

That doesn’t stop when the puck goes down at the start of the game, either. In fact, it’s become an integral part of the Huskies’ success. MacKenzie always tries to have something funny — whether it be a dad joke or a one-liner — up his sleeve for tense moments in the contest.

“During the week, I'll come up with a story or a theme and I'll just say it on the bench at the most weirdest time and it kind of makes them laugh here and there,” he explained. “It could be anything.”

So what’s an example?

“It’s called can opener,” MacKenzie began. “A player was pinning the puck against the boards and I’m like, ‘If they do this, do this’ and I put their stick between the boards and the player, you just peel them off. It's really easy. We call it the can opener. Literally, it’s happening in the game, kids on the team are screaming ‘can opener.’”

The goal is to keep the team loose on the bench so the players can just play instead of feeling the pressure.

“It's just like something stupid,” MacKenzie said. “It's all inside jokes and weird stuff that no one's gonna get. But yeah, I don't know. It's kind of funny. Brings some levity to an otherwise stressful situation.”

UConn hopes it’ll need plenty more jokes the rest of the way. On Wednesday, the Huskies will face off against Boston College in the Hockey East semifinals at Toscano Family Ice Forum. Amid a historic season that featured the first conference regular season title in program history, UConn is trying to win the league tournament in order to secure its first NCAA Tournament berth.

While the Huskies advanced in the quarterfinals behind a mostly comfortable 4-2 win over Holy Cross, they don’t expect Wednesday’s matchup to be that easy.

“I think it'll be tight and we're just hoping to come out on top,” MacKenzie said.

Boston College has proven to be UConn’s one blemish in league play this season. Despite three matchups, the Huskies came away with just a single point. They were swept in their first Hockey East series of the year back in October — part the team’s of a 0-3-0 start in the conference before they went unbeaten in their next 21 league games — and lost in a shootout in December.

“We haven't defeated them this year,” MacKenzie said. “So this is going to be a big test and we’re looking forward to it.”

A UConn-BC battle has become almost an annual affair in the Hockey East playoffs. Since MacKenzie took over in 2013-14, the two schools have met during the postseason in eight of 11 seasons — including Wednesday’s matchup. The Huskies have advanced three times while the Eagles have done so four times.

Last season, BC ended UConn’s season in the quarterfinals. From 2018-21, they faced off every year: The Huskies won in the semifinals in 2018 and the quarterfinals in 2021 while they fell in the quarterfinals in 2019 and 2020. The Eagles won in the semis in 2015 and 2016 as well.

“It's been quite a bit,” MacKenzie said. “It's another chapter in the story here.”

Only two games in the postseason series have been decided by more than two goals. In the three contests this year, the two losses were decided by a single score. Wednesday night should be an intense, down-to-the-wire affair.

Luckily, MacKenzie has a joke for that, too.

“That's part of the reason why I used to have hair,” he said. “I coach and now I don't. So now you know why. If you want to get into coaching, you're going to look like me and I don't advise anyone to do that, to be quite honest with you.”