contributed by Alyssa Cantisani
The key to any successful building project is starting with a solid foundation. Looking back four years ago, that foundation started on a Wednesday night in early November when the Huskies took the XL Center ice for the first time as they hosted nationally ranked powerhouse, Boston College. Three hours later, with their ears still ringing from the sounds of a raucous crowd, the Huskies and this senior class, then freshmen, helped usher in a new era of UConn hockey.
“It was huge.” said two-time captain Derek Pratt, “It was packed, it was rowdy and it was one of those wins where you get caught up in the whole thing. Just thinking back and looking at the highlights of those last five seconds, that was an exciting one for sure.”
The program has undoubtedly grown under the leadership of this year’s nine seniors and on Friday February 16, they took it back to where it all began. This core group came full circle and pulled off yet another captivating win at home in front of 7,372 #IceBus fans, the third largest crowd in program history at the XL Center. The Huskies twice erased two goal deficits in beating nationally ranked Boston University in overtime, 5-4, marking their seventh-straight win.
“I really can’t say enough about the crowd in my whole four years here honestly,” two-time alternate captain Spencer Naas, “I remember my first game here against BC and the crowd was unbelievable and tonight (vs. BU) it just reminded me of that. They’ve been so good to us and always so supportive. They gave us that push at the end of the game and they certainly contributed to that win and it was just great to get a win like that in front of that many people.”
Prior to the BU game, Pratt and Naas along with fellow seniors Johnny Austin, Tanner Creel, David Drake, Kasperi Ojantakanen, Corey Ronan, Jesse Schwartz and Jeff Wight, took the ice with their parents to be honored during the annual “senior night” ceremony. It was a chance to showcase the impact that the first class to play all four years in Hockey East has had on the program.
“It’s been a rollercoaster,” said Creel, “There have been a lot of ups and downs but it’s been a great ride.”
It hasn’t always come easy. Becoming a program who competes and has high expectations for themselves came with a lot of hard work. Look back on their freshmen year when the Huskies were swept by Northeastern losing on the road 9-0. Four years later and the Huskies swept the season series with Northeastern and won for the first time at Matthews Arena.
This season, UConn hockey officially arrived. The Huskies finished tied for fifth in the final standings with a program record of 11 wins and 23 points in just its fourth season of play in the league. The huskies will make their first ever appearance in the Hockey East quarterfinals when they play Boston University March 9-11.
When May rolls around and it’s time for graduation, this group will walk away with the feeling of accomplishment along with several pieces of wisdom they’ve picked up over the years from both their classmates and coaches.
“Freshmen year someone told me to enjoy every second of my time here because it goes by fast.” said Ojantakanen, “It sounds cliché but I took it in and I try to cherish that every day, knowing it’s going to come to an end but at the same time trying to just live in the moment. Hopefully I can pass that along to someone else and they can take that seriously.”
For a college hockey senior it’s never easy when staring at possibly the end of a playing career but because these nine seniors have nurtured the program since they stepped foot on campus, closing the UConn hockey chapter of their lives can be bittersweet.
“I hope to stay involved in hockey whether that be playing or somehow being part of the game in another way.” said Pratt, “It’s been in my blood from day one.”
With the regular season over, it’s time for the Huskies to take the success of the regular season and hopefully roll it into a long playoff run. Whenever this year’s run does end, this senior class can leave knowing they’ve helped build the foundation of a winning hockey program both on and off the ice.
“If you can leave a better person and hockey player than when you came then you did something right,” said Drake.
That’s just what this group did. These are nine players who took a chance on a non-established program and who will now be remembered as the class who transformed UConn men’s hockey forever.
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