In 1997, the Hartford Whalers left for North Carolina, leaving the XL Center vacant and making Connecticut a state without any professional sports teams. Despite having successful AHL franchises in Bridgeport and Hartford, as well as four Division I college hockey teams, Connecticut hockey fans have been starved from the opportunity to rally around one team that represents the Nutmeg State. This season marked UConn men’s hockey’s first in Hockey East, often considered NCAA hockey’s premier conference. Picked to finish last in the league, a team hungry to show its worth had an opportunity to do so this past Tuesday night. Neither players nor fans disappointed, as a sellout crowd of 8,089 watched the Huskies upset 3rd ranked Boston College 1-0 in a thriller at the XL Center in Hartford. This upset, joined with a victory two weeks ago over a strong Quinnipiac team as well as a hard fought 4-4 tie last night against also top 10 ranked Boston University, has this writer believing that hockey in Hartford could be back in a big way.
This game was huge for UConn coach Mike Cavanaugh, who earned his position after years as an assistant under Jerry York at BC. It may have been even bigger, perhaps, for Husky’s Evan Richardson, who had been cut last year by York at BC after only playing in four games. The transfer scored the lone goal of the game, and sophomore goalie Rob Nichols helped seal his teammate’s revenge against the Eagles by becoming the first net minder to shutout BC in 106 games. The stars aligned and this was an incredible night, but Cavanaugh stressed the importance of not being a one-hit wonder and continuing to compete every night. His team responded against surging Boston University in a hard fought away tie, once again playing up to their big game opponents (UConn has earned 5 of its 7 points against ranked teams). This team is ready to compete, and if Connecticut fans can rally around them the way they have with basketball teams of late, they may begin to fill the void left by absence of hockey in Hartford. Glimpses of this were seen as eight thousand rose to their feet cheering to Brass Bonanza, the Whaler’s famed goal song when UConn took the lead on the former NHL team’s home ice.
The Huskies continue play against cross state rival and former Atlantic Hockey foe Sacred Heart on Friday in Watertown, CT. Here’s a video recapping the big night vs. BC.