In a span of 24 hours the melting pot of college basketball wasn’t Dallas or Nashville, but Storrs Connecticut. For the second time in history the UConn men’s and women’s basketball teams are the National Champions at the same time. The school is now an incredible 13-0 in National Title games with four men’s championships and a record best nine National Championships for the women. 2014 will be remembered for the historic run of the men’s team after going through the ringer the previous season and the sheer dominance the women’s program which once again ran the table with 40 wins. After this week the main question shouldn’t be about UConn’s dominance, but the state’s dominance as a whole. Is Connecticut becoming one of if not the best state in the nation for college sports?
I can already hear the yelling and screaming already. What are you nuts? Connecticut the best state for college sports? Blasphemous! But is it? In the span of twelve months the state has won 4 National Championships. Last year, Yale won the hockey National Championship to go with the three championships the Huskies added, two in basketball one in field hockey. We all know about basketball. The UConn men remain one of the best programs in the country, and the women are in a league of their own. However, the nutmeg state has become a hotbed for college hockey. Last year both Yale and Quinnipiac made it to the finals in hockey and both have been perennial powers for years with consistent top 15 rankings in the country. With UConn hockey moving into Hockey East and steadily improving, the question is becoming when not if another team from the Constitution state will win the National Championship.
Yeah, but what about football? True Connecticut is not a football state, this isn’t Alabama with the Crimson Tide and Auburn. I think that is pretty obvious, but across the board the other sports in this state prove that Connecticut is the cream of the crop in college sports. Field Hockey? UConn won the National Championship in 2013. Baseball? UConn reached the regionals for the first time in 2013. Along with these national appearances the Connecticut schools have won numerous conference championships across the board.
With already established powerhouses, and strong up and comers, the Nutmeg state could soon be more than just the center of college basketball, but the NCAA universe as well. With some of the greatest underrated fan bases in the country, it’s not hard to see why Connecticut loves it’s college teams. With dominance in basketball and hockey, if Connecticut can establish another team or teams that become perennial powers, it will be hard to argue that Connecticut is not a great home for college sports, but “the home” for college sports.
In a recent interview Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy recently revealed that there are at least three groups that want to purchase an NHL franchise and relocate it to Hartford. While there are numerous obstacles such as the NHL brass and the arena situation in Hartford, one major key for a pro team to call Hartford home is actually hockey at the college level. True a new arena is a necessity despite the 35 million dollars in upgrades Malloy has said will be going into the aging XL Center, but at the end of the day it will be the interest in hockey that will get the NHL back. Arenas can be built, teams can be bought, but fan support needs to be earned.
While Governor Malloy has made it clear that a new arena is one of if not the biggest necessities for an NHL team, he believes that college hockey is the key component in making Connecticut a major hockey market. With so many professional teams in the area and minor league teams, it is a difficult sell to fans to watch the Wolf Pack in Hartford. It’s like asking college kids to have alcohol less beer at a party, not exactly a tempting offer. With the UConn
hockey team entering Hockey East next season, Malloy has said that if UConn can become a big draw in Hartford, it could be a key factor in proving that the state can support an NHL team. With the success of the Quinnipiac and Yale programs becoming key players on the national stage, if UConn can become a top tier program with drawing power, then Connecticut could be the home of some of the best college hockey in the country. If UConn can get great support, Malloy feels this will be a huge step forward in attracting the NHL back to the Insurance Capital. Malloy has been on record stating: “If you want NHL hockey back in Hartford, then you need to support UConn hockey”.
If Nutmeggers can support the three college teams on consistent basis with great attendance, that could make up for the lackluster attendance at Wolf Pack games and allow the NHL to have a franchise in Hartford. If anything, the fact that the Whalers are still being talked about despite leaving in 1997 just proves how much the franchise meant to the state. With fan trips to games, including some recent ones to Islanders games, the Whaler fans base is strong and ready for a team. Now with groups within the state bidding on other NHL
franchises and a governor who has already proven that he wants a team back in Connecticut, it is now on up to the Whaler Nation to take over. If we can prove that we support the great college teams that the state is providing while continuing to show support for the green and blue, the NHL will have to listen. With the Success of the Winnipeg Jets and a few teams that could be looking for new homes in the coming decade, why not Hartford? With the new realignment Hartford would be a perfect fit in the Metropolitan or Atlantic divisions. While there is still a long road ahead for a Hartford Whalers return, if the Whaler fans continue there support for the state’s college teams the question could be when not if the NHL comes home to Hartford.
To see the entire Governor Malloy interview (click here)
In 2014-2015 the Connecticut Huskies will enter new territory. Starting next year, the UCONN hockey team will be joining one of the better leagues in college hockey, Hockey East. At this point many people may even be asking “wait, UCONN has a hockey team”? It’s easy to be forgotten at a school known for its powerhouse basketball programs, and its recent dominance in soccer and baseball. Not to mention a school whose effort to build a national football program has gone off the rails in the past few years. By joining Hockey East, the hockey team will now be entering the big time. It’s been a program that’s been heading in the right direction. With more scholarships and an impressive 19-14-4 2012-2013 season, the program is ready to make some noise on the Storrs campus. There’s just one problem.
Let me see scholarships? Check. New uniforms? Check. A new coach with National Championship credentials? Check. A suitable arena to house the team? Oh there’s the problem. The Huskies do not have a suitable home which could be the final piece to the hockey puzzle. The solution? Give them the home they deserve. After years of pouring millions of dollars into the other athletic programs, it’s time for UCONN to invest in their hockey program’s future. Despite being built-in 1998, the Mark Edward Freitas Ice Forum is not a suitable home. This arena was built for a second-rate college hockey program, which UCONN was at the time, but now it’s a joke that a Hockey East team calls this home. While the hockey program has announced that the Hockey East games will be played at the XL Center in Hartford, this is just another problem. The massive 15,000 seat arena can barely be filled for a UCONN basketball game and will look empty even if 5,000 fans show up to a hockey game. On top of that the arena is outdated, 30 minutes from campus, and will cost the school about 25,000$ to play a game there. What’s the solution to all of this? Build this team a new arena.
The Huskies need to build a facility that will not only house this team for the future, but to use as a tool to recruit top prospects. Let’s face it, despite the direction of the program, the arena situation is a major turnoff. If I’m a recruit do I want to play in two arenas that are terrible, or go to a beautiful arena of a Hockey East rival? Sounds like an easy decision easy to me. If UCONN wants to be successful in hockey just look 40 minutes south at Quinnipiac University.
After building their 52 million dollar TD Bank North Sports Center basketball and hockey complex in 2007, the Quinnipiac Bobcats program blossomed. Coach Rand Pecknold has even said that the arena is one of the biggest recruiting tools and why they have been able to become on of college hockey’s premiere programs. Six years after opening their new arena, the Quinnipiac Bobcats were playing for a National Championship, in large part because they used their arena as a major recruitment tool. UCONN has the resources and space to build a new arena. A 3000-4500 seat arena would be an adequate sized arena for this team. Bigger then their current arena but not as colossal as the XL Center. Plus, they can add all the bells and whistles to make it a state of the art home that will make Hockey East rivals envious. With Connecticut now becoming one of the better locations in the country for college hockey, thanks to Quinnipiac and the National Champion Yale Bulldogs, the state of Connecticut is becoming a major player in college hockey. We’ve seen how quickly the Yale and Quinnipiac programs have emerged onto the national stage, with nowhere near the resources that UCONN possesses. If UCONN builds a new arena and uses that as a great recruiting tool, I predict within 5 years after the arena’s completion UCONN will be a nationally ranked program. Hockey has always been a staple in New England culture, shouldn’t one of New England’s best schools share in the tradition of great hockey? I’m not saying that UCONN can’t be great in hockey without a new arena, but it would defiantly speed up the process. Remember what they always said in Field of Dreams? If you build it they will come! If UCONN builds it, great hockey will come. Who knows. Maybe one UCONN hockey and basketball teams will be fighting over who can win the most National Championships and who is truly Connecticut’s team.