By Erica Brancato
It’s not uncommon to see UConn fans all over downtown Hartford during the winter months with the Huskies playing men’s and women’s basketball games at the XL Center, and now men’s ice hockey.
This past Saturday was a little more unique as UConn really took over Hartford as the men’s basketball team and the men’s hockey team both suited up to play games in one day at the XL Center.
Over 20,000 fans jammed the Capital City for the day, which was good news for the Huskies, but also good business for the restaurants and other establishments in Hartford.
For “True Blue” Connecticut sports fans, Hartford was the only place to be on Saturday, with occasional glances to the XL Center television sets during the hockey game to get a quick update on the Patriots vs. Ravens playoff game allowed.
First up was basketball, as the Huskies defeated their American Athletic Conference rival Cincinnati in a hard fought 62-56 win. The sold out crowd of 15,564 was electric as it helped boost UConn’s confidence in the second half. Though it was a back and forth battle for most of the game, as each team was equally matched, near the end of the second half the Huskies were able to turn it around and hold off the Bearcats.
“We don’t win that game without our crowd,” senior captain Ryan Boatright said. “I thank the fans a lot and I know I told the guys before the game they come out and make the team. They show love. They come and support us, so let’s give them a quality win. They want to see us beat some tough teams and we came out and did that today.”
There were a few hours of down time between games and Husky fans brought back the energy for the UConn men’s hockey team. 6,855 fans packed the XL Center for a second time as the UConn earned their seventh win of the season against No.6 UMass Lowell.
“I have been going to the basketball games since I was a kid,” UConn student Olivia Egan said. “I never miss the games so I went with my family this afternoon. I’m going to the hockey game tonight because I have never been before. I’m a senior so I’m crossing this off my bucket list. I think it is awesome to be able to spend the whole day in Hartford. In between games I went out to lunch with my family. It was nice to be able to just turn around and come right back.”
On the ice, UConn looked to redeem their loss in the Frozen Holiday Classic final in December against UMass Lowell. Coming off a strong 6-3 win at Army, the Huskies were welcomed back to Connecticut with a nearly sold out crowd.
“When I saw hockey on the schedule the same night, seemed like a fun idea,” Puneet Nanda a UConn alum and 14-year basketball season ticket holder said. “I absolutely love the back-to-back idea. I think the energy from the basketball win certainly helps.”
While it was a calm first period on the ice, the Huskies started heating up during the second when senior Jacob Poe gave UConn a 1-0 lead on a power play. Although the Huskies outplayed the River Hawks, goaltender Rob Nichols and the UConn defense were kept on their toes as UMass Lowell refused to go down without a fight. Late in the third period Spencer Naas sealed the deal for the Huskies as they defeated UMass Lowell 2-0.
The UConn men’s hockey team picked up right where the men’s basketball team left off. The Huskies kept the momentum going as a thousands of fans came to the XL Center to cheer on back-to-back wins for UConn athletics in their Hartford takeover.