I’m limping towards the finish line here. Drinking and writing for a week straight sounds a lot better on paper than it feels in real life, and being a fan of a team that hasn’t existed for 19 years is a severe handicap when writing about current events. Let’s get this over with.
#3: QUINNIPIAC WENT ALL THE WAY TO THE FINALS AND DESTROYED SOME TREES TO CELEBRATE
Full disclosure: I’m a UConn guy. Despite having an inarguably better record on the ice, Quinnipiac has kind of played a second fiddle to the big stage in Hartford. Other than their one contribution to UConn’s eight game losing streak, which kind of pissed me off, they were largely off of most people’s radar outside of the Hamden campus.
That said, it was hard not to root for them when this tiny little Connecticut college with a long-standing tradition of playing the Brass Bonanza during games and staging hockey riots came within one game of a national championship this year. North Dakota may have won in the end, but Quinnipiac came awfully close. And for some reason they destroyed trees.
#2: THE CONNECTICUT WHALE CAME BACK (WITH AN ASTERISK)
Now I realize it sounds like of demeaning to say that Connecticut earning a top-level pro hockey team name the Whale is with an asterisk, so let me be clear that the downside of women’s pro hockey in the NWHL has nothing to do with the actual hockey. It’s good. Really good. I’ve watched a lot of good hockey in my life, and the I would put the inaugural NWHL Whale game versus in the top three games ever, as far as talent goes. And the rest of my top three includes names like Gordie Howe and Patrick Kane.
At any given time, the amount of Olympic talent on the ice was kind of staggering. I’d heard of a lot of talk about the women’s game being boring or slow or soft, but I didn’t see any of that. There was supposed to be no checking at all, but it’s more accurate to say the checking was restrained compared to the men’s game. Four roughing penalties in the first game. And there was this:
The asterisk has to do with the hockey than the business side of women’s hockey. I’m not going to pretend that the NWHL Whale, playing in front of less than 2000 people in a large rec rink, was on the same level as the NHL Whalers. Women’s hockey is still growing. It was a much scrappier, grassroots kind of league. But it was real and it was pro and it was a lot of fun. Unfortunately, the borderline business model caught up to us halfway through the season. The Whale absolutely dominated for the first half of the season without losing a single game.
Then it all fell apart. GMs and coaches came and went, players requested trades. At one point there is an ethically questionable secret meeting between the players and league commissioner. The distractions and coaching changes became too much and the unstoppable Whale got knocked out of the play-offs in the first round.
However the inaugural season ended, it was pretty awesome to have some form of the Whalers back, even if it was all the way down in Stamford. I got to be right on the glass for some serious hockey history. Most notably the first goal of the first professional women’s hockey game in American history. It came at 2:28 in the first period from captain Jessica Koizumi of the Whale. And goal song which played on that historic moment?
#1: THE TIP AT THE WHITT AKA UCONN’S 11TH HOUR COMEBACK
In their second year in Hockey East, the UConn hockey team had it’s Tate George moment, the clutch last-minute goal that would become a historical turning point for the program. And nobody saw it.
The Huskies went into that final weekend series versus UNH with only the slimmest of hope for to earn a home play-off series. While UConn had a good run after recovering from the miserable eight-game losing streak, they were further hampered when goalie Rob Nichols was injured coming off a sweep of UMass-Lowell. We’d never been good against UNH in the past, especially away at the Whittemore Center with its Oylmpic-sized ice. Depending on what happened with other teams in the league, we might need a sweep. It wasn’t looking good.
To make matters worse, I came down with the flu the day of the first game and had to stay home. I listened to the game on the radio, curled up in a feverish vomiting ball on the couch.
Corey Ronan came back from an eight-game absences to due to injury with a vengeance, scoring the first goal in what became an eventual 4-1 rout. The next day they played in New Hampshire. It was ugly. We went into the third period down 4-1, and if you know the Huskies, you had every reason to believe it was done at this point. UNH, Olympic-size ice, a three-goal deficit…it was a laundry list of obstacles that UConn had never overcome before.
And then we did. We tied it up in the third. With about a minute to go, they pulled Nichols. Another thing that never works, but did this time. Joey Ferris put one in the net off an assist from Joe Masonius and it went to overtime. Ronan made the difference again, scoring the winning goal in overtime. I called it “The Shot v2”, being old enough to have watched Tate George beat the buzzer and make UConn basketball relevant, but someone else on twitter called it “The Tip at the Whitt” and that works for me.
Despite a season that ranged from inconsistent to brutally frustrating, the team that never beats the odds somehow beat the odds. And nobody saw it. It was an away game, only on AM radio, and all but a few diehards had turned off sometime before the third period when UConn was down 4-1. I suffered through the entire game out of some bizarre sense of loyalty. The next morning everyone else woke up bewildered by the news that play-off tickets were on sale for UConn’s first home series. In true UConn fashion, they got swept by Vermont in front of crowds 2-3 times larger than anyone else in the league.
So there you have it. A college hockey game that didn’t even take place in Connecticut, which I listened to on AM radio while vomiting on the couch, is your #1 hockey moment of the 2015-16 season. It was that good.
Let’s give our livers a rest and do this again next year. Cheers.