June 29, 2012
HARTFORD, Conn. - Hundreds of fans, supporters, media and local business leaders came to the XL Center on Friday afternoon to celebrate UConn's acceptance into the Hockey East Association for men's ice hockey. The event had several special guest speakers including political leaders, UConn representatives and hockey alumni. UConn will join the nation's top league in 2014-15.
Joe D'Ambrosio, the voice of UConn men's basketball and football on the WTIC-UConn Radio Network, served as the Master of Ceremonies. Fans were treated to T-Shirts, giveaways and autographs by current UConn players and former All-American and Hartford Whaler Todd Krygier. The Honorable Governor Dannel P. Malloyopened the celebration.
"This is good for the University of Connecticut. It's good for the students and the student-athletes. 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," said Governor Malloy.
"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.
"I can't wait for the first Hockey East puck to be thrown down, right out here in this venue and see the University of Connecticut beat whoever we play that night," added Governor Malloy to boisterous cheers.
Fans packed the atrium of the XL Center, much to the delight of Hockey East Commissioner Joe Bertagna.
"I've had the pleasure of being at two welcoming events in the last seven years; 2005 when the University of Vermont joined Hockey East and last fall when Notre Dame joined the league. With all due respect to those institutions and those events, this is unbelievable. 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 Marshall, but it won't be long until the next Jonathan Quick (NHL Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings - UMass- Hamden, Conn.) or Max Pacioretty (Montreal Canadiens - Michigan - New Canaan, Conn.) or Cam Atkinson (Columbus Blue Jackets - Boston College - Avon, Conn.) aren't going to BC or Michigan or UMass. They'll be going to UConn and we'll be winning plenty of hockey games."
The XL Center, the future home of men's hockey at UConn hosted the event. XL Center Vice President and Chairman Chuck Steedmanspoke 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," added Steedman.
President Susan Herbstled 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. 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."
"Today is a great and historic day for UConn, UConn Athletics, the State of Connecticut, UConn hockey and Hockey East," said UConn Director of Athletics Warde Manuel."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 warming out (at the outside rink) with Bruce and our teammates, we had two wishes, two dreams. One was to close the hockey rink. Obviously, Mr. 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."
Head Coach Bruce Marshallclosed the ceremony.
"I remember the basketball team playing in the field house, now they are winning national titles. What Geno (Auriemma) has done, 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 can not thank the Governor enough, the President, the Mayor, all the people who had a hand in making this happen.
"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."