As I understand it, prior to my arrival at The Daily Campus in Fall 2015, there was a writer in the Sports Department who loved to quip “Has hockey season started yet?” The inside joke lives on, still providing chuckles at department meetings from time to time.
However, this season, the answer is definitively yes.
If you haven’t been paying attention, the men’s hockey team has won six games in a row and the Ice Bus is rolling. They have knocked off Hockey East leader and perennial powerhouse Boston College, the recent Beanpot champion Northeastern and conference Pairwise leader Providence in that stretch. They have won all six games on the back of senior goaltender Tanner Creel, who did not see game action last year and was recruited back when UConn was still in Atlantic Hockey.
After an 0-5 stretch earlier this year, the Huskies have bounced back to fifth in the Hockey East standings. Up next is a date with a talented and renowned program in Boston University on Feb. 16 at the XL Center.
There’s a reason that the Athletic Department has been hyping it so much. It’s a big game with big implications. BU is just two points ahead in the standings and with the season winding down, every single one matters.
Since joining Hockey East UConn, has held steady in the league’s lower-middle class. BU has spent much of that same time, as well as most of their history, at the top. The Terriers have numerous NHL draft picks on their roster, including likely 2018 Top Five selection Brady Tkachuk. If he could have qualified academically, UConn’s leading scorer Max Letunov would likely be there as well.
It’s the nouveau riche vs. old money. Coach Mike Cavanaugh has unquestionably grown the program. He nabbed two recruits from the USNTDP in Tage Thompson and Joe Masonius, as well as Letunov (2nd round) and Miles Gendron (3rd round). Since my freshman year, student attendance has continued to increase.
Yet things have also felt stagnant, especially during the winless stretch earlier in the year. Connecticut is 20th in the country in attendance this year, averaging 3,770 fans per game according to USCHO. In 2014-2015, the first year in Hockey East, they were 10th at 5,396 which led the conference. From 2016-2016 to last year the attendance dropped roughly 750 fans per game. The number this year is over 1,000. The novelty has worn off, and UConn has still not won a Hockey East playoff series. Since their growth they have lost the ability to beat Sacred Heart. This year’s freshman class had no drafted players.
Things will be okay, BU is a big name and their fans travel well, giving attendance a boost. Cavanaugh has several talented European recruits in the pipeline. Nevertheless, for a moment, things were looking pretty blah. Now a surprise run has shifted course.
This game against the Terriers is a tremendous opportunity. It could signal an arrival of sorts. Knocking off one of the big boys in BU and earning a bye in the Hockey East playoffs, as well as extending the streak, will let the conference and college hockey community know it’s for real. Arguably more importantly, it will let fans, hardcore and casual, know the same thing.
The Hockey team is still underrepresented in fan support on this campus in my opinion. This game is a huge chance to change that. Utilize the on-ice momentum to build some off it. This game could be the tipping point that pushes the program into a period of sustained relevance. Students, this a game you want to be at (I will be there, albeit garishly in a white Jack Eichel BU jersey, a story for another time). This is a program you want to support. Hockey season started back in September, but what matters most may be right now.
Matt Barresi is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.