Thomas G. Cavanagh ’05—a star ice hockey player during his time at Harvard who went on to play for the San Jose Sharks in the National Hockey League—died on Jan. 6. He was 28.
Growing up in a family of hockey players, Cavanagh, whose father and uncle both played for the Crimson, saw the most professional success in the sport of anyone in his family, playing 138 games during his four-year Harvard career and scoring 117 points.
“I always thought of Tommy as being very stoic and determined and someone I had complete confidence in—in trying the best at whatever he did,” said Joseph V. Cavanagh Jr. ’71, Cavanagh’s father.
During his senior year at Harvard, Cavanagh tore his anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during practice.
But Cavanagh, a team captain, played 19 more games before finishing his college career that year.
“It’s playable,” Cavanagh said at the time. “Players have played with it. You can play hockey with a torn ACL.”
“He had a tolerance for pain,” his father said. “He was a very quiet boy, so no one would really know what was going on. No one understood the extent of his injury.”
He added that his son had been suffering from mental illness at the time of his death.
Throughout his time at Harvard, Cavanagh was viewed as a role model for his teammates.
He was always top five in points scored every season, according to Harvard teammate Timothy D. Pettit ’04, but Cavanagh never let the accolades go to his head.
“He was more of a silent leader, but on the team everyone knew how talented he was,” Pettit said, adding that Cavanagh had an admirable work ethic.
Those who knew him spoke repeatedly of Cavanagh’s dedication to the sport and commitment to being a team member.
“He was one of my favorite players I have ever been around in any facet of hockey, whether playing or coaching,” Ted Donato ’91, the current Harvard men’s hockey coach who coached Cavanagh for part of his Harvard career, told The Providence Journal. “He was just a very unselfish, hard-working team guy who played his best in big games.”
But Pettit also said he remembers the funny friend that Cavanagh was off the ice—once you got to know him.
“He would always have something funny to say that was never malicious,” Pettit said. “Everyone on the team always saw him as a good brother.”
Cavanagh is survived by his parents and eight siblings.
—Staff writer Xi Yu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.