UConn Celebrates Its Move to Hockey East
CHN Staff Report
HARTFORD, Conn. Connecticut and Hockey East formally celebrated their new relationship Friday at Hartford's XL Center, in front of hundreds of fans, supporters, media and local business leaders. UConn will join Hockey East in 2014-15.
It was a celebratory event, with the news already having been leaked out a couple of weeks ago. Fans were treated to T-Shirts, giveaways and autographs by current UConn players and former All-American and Hartford Whaler Todd Krygier.
"This is good for the University of Connecticut. It's good for the students and the student-athletes," Governor Dan Malloy, an avid hockey fan, said. "It's good to expand our scholarship opportunities for men and women in the sports programs. It's good for Hartford. It's a major draw.
"Quite frankly, as a hockey fan, this is about elevating UConn hockey to where it should be and quite frankly where it should have been for a long time, and where it is now going to be — in the No. 1 premier hockey league in the United States, one that has on a routine basis led to a national championship for some little school up the road that I happened to attend."
For Hockey East commissioner Joe Bertagna, this was the third new team he's welcomed to the league, after Vermont in 2005 and Notre Dame last fall.
"With all due respect to those institutions and those events, this is unbelievable," Bertagna said. "This is four, maybe five times the number of people that turned out today to those events. This speaks to the level of enthusiasm in Connecticut."
Several other major political leaders spoke including the Mayor of Hartford, Pedro Segarra and Senate Republican Leader John McKinney.
"This is one more thing that takes our city and thrusts it into everything a capital city can be," said Mayor Segarra. "As we try to make Hartford a 12-month destination and bring passion back to the city and to hockey, there's no better way to do that than have UConn be a member of Hockey East."
"This is great for all of those youth hockey players out there. I'm one of those crazy youth hockey dads because my son is one of those 16-year old Midget players," said Senate Republican Leader John McKinney. "Not to put too much pressure on coach (Bruce) Marshall, but it won't be long until the next Jonathan Quick (Hamden, Conn., native — Massachusetts) or Max Pacioretty (New Canaan, Conn. — Michigan) or Cam Atkinson (Avon, Conn. — Boston College) aren't going to BC or Michigan or UMass. They'll be going to UConn and we'll be winning plenty of hockey games."
XL Center Vice President and Chairman Chuck Steedman spoke about the future relationship of hockey at the XL Center.
"We know hockey. We know hockey to its core. We are thrilled to welcome UConn and Hockey East to the XL Center and AEG hockey family," said Steedman. "We will strive to provide the best possible environment to the student-athletes, the UConn fans and supporters of visiting institutions. That's our promise to each and everyone here.
"The city of Hartford is coming. I have every intention of leading a bid for the city of Hartford to obtain the Hockey East Championship and put it where it belongs - here at the XL Center."
School president Susan Herbst led the UConn contingent at today's celebration.
"Our goal at UConn is to do everything incredibly well in the academic side and the athletics side," Herbst said. "We plan on being a major force in collegiate ice hockey. Joining Hockey East is an unbelievable honor for us. I wrote a letter to the other league presidents and told them we're going to bring a lot of excitement and a lot of fans and we'll see them on the ice."
UConn athletic director Warde Manuel is also considered to be a major hockey proponent. In his previous job, at University of Buffalo, he was involved with plans to potentially start a new program there, with the backing of Boston Bruins owner and Buffalo native Jeremy Jacobs. Those plans have stalled and Manuel later went to UConn.
"Today is a great and historic day for UConn, UConn Athletics, the State of Connecticut, UConn hockey and Hockey East," Manuel said. "I want to thank the Governor for your nice regards and your tremendous support of UConn's hockey program's elevation into Hockey East. Without your support, we could not have gotten this done."
Former All-American and Hartford Whaler Todd Krygiermade a special guest appearance, signing autographs and taking pictures.
"Speaking on behalf of all the UConn alumni hockey players, back in that (outside rink where UConn used to play) with Bruce and our teammates, we had two wishes, two dreams," Krygier said. "One was to close the hockey rink. Obviously, Mr. (Mark) Freitas' contribution made that possible. Thank you. The second wish and dream we talked about was getting into Hockey East. It took the right timing and the right people to make this happen."
Perhaps the most important figure, going forward, is head coach Bruce Marshall, who closed the days' events. Marshall has been the leader of the program during decades of relative indifference. He will now, presumably, get the opportunity to lead a program with a full complement of 18 scholarships at his disposal, and full institutional backing.
"I remember the basketball team playing in the field house, now they are winning national titles," Marshall said. "What Geno (Auriemma) has done (with women's basketball), they've won seven titles. ... We go to Rentschler Field in football, now we are playing in the BCS Bowl Game. We are at UConn, we're going to do it, and we're going to do it right.
"I think some of the biggest people who had their hands in this to help make this happen are the ones who wore this jersey, they went to school here and they believed in UConn hockey. They kept it going and they wanted to see it happen. They wanted to be a part of it and wanted to be here that day. I'm thankful for everything they've done.
"I look at the kids with youth jerseys out here. A major part of our goal is to stop people on their way up I-84. When you get there, we want you to stop, head down that exit, go to our great Dairy Bar, get your kid an ice cream cone and walk around campus. We want you here. Many of you kids that have put those jerseys on and played between periods (at the XL Center), I want you to take that bag off your shoulder and come down to UConn and try to play for the University of Connecticut."