Hockey needs more support
I spoke with an old friend who attends Providence College this past weekend. Our conversation quickly turned into a discussion of UConn-Providence athletics. When I brought up the Friar and Husky hockey teams, a perplexed look came across the person's face.
"UConn has a men's hockey team?" she said.
Flabbergasted by her statement, I quickly informed her we do indeed have a team, although it may not be on the level of UConn's famed football, basketball, soccer and baseball programs.
As basketball practice begins and students anxiously wait for the men and women to open play, both of UConn's hockey programs have already started their seasons.
Both teams will surely make headlines in mid-February, when the men play Sacred Heart in an outdoor game at Rentschler Field. The women will play Providence in the Winter Classic atmosphere as well, during the 10-day Whalers Hockey Fest. But the two programs already have a few games under their belts midway through October.
The women's team has gotten off on the wrong foot, losing four of its first five games with a trip to Minnesota-Duluth coming up this weekend. But if anyone can right the ship, it's coach Heather Linstad, who has more than 300 career wins in 11 seasons. Linstad led the Huskies to a No. 9 national ranking to end last season and a runner-up finish in the Hockey East championship game. The men, after celebrating the program's 50th year last season, started the 51st campaign with a shocker.
In the opening game of the season, the Huskies marched up to Maine and stunned the heavily-favored Black Bears. Before 4,149 people at Alfond Arena, UConn tied No. 7 Maine 3-3. This is the same Maine program that has won two national championships and has defeated UMass Lowell and tied Michigan State this season. This is the same UConn program that finished last season 7-27-3, and spent much of the season ranked second to last in the entire Division I rankings, some weeks even swapping spots with AIC in the country's cellar.
The win over the Black Bears was a foundation to build off of, a confidence booster and a great start to the year, according to junior forward Dan Naurato.
Unfortunately, UConn's elation was met with a reality check this past weekend. At unranked Merrimack, the Huskies were defeated 7-1. (The Warriors did receive eight votes in the USCHO.com poll). The extremes between the two games seem like an oddity, but with UConn, it's a normal two-game stretch.
To clarify, the Huskies are a Division I varsity team, like Yale, Quinnipiac, Boston College and North Dakota. However, unlike the majority of Division I programs, UConn does not offer full scholarships for men's hockey.
No half scholarships.
No scholarship money at all.
The reason is an understandable one, Title IX. The law is meant to level the playing field between men and women. At UConn, there needs to be an equal amount of scholarships given to men and women. Although it levels the playing field between sexes, it causes the men's hockey team to be at a competitive disadvantage. Compared to other top-notch programs, UConn is left out in the cold.
Now, I'm not lobbying for the men's hockey program to get scholarships, although I'm sure there is a way to accomodate the players financially with aid. Some sort of scholarship money would surely attract recruits from a hockey hotbed like New England and beyond. What I'm really asking is for understanding and appreciation.
Looking at box scores like the Merrimack loss can be disheartening to fans. There needs to be a common understanding that without scholarships, the men's team will have games where they are overmatched, not outplayed. However, a game like Maine can give a glimmer of hope. This is a team that gives their all, doesn't make excuses and most importantly plays with heart.
Covering the team last season, along with my twin brother Colin, was a great experience. The team's players and coaches are welcoming, and reporting on their 3-2 overtime win over Mercyhurst on Senior Day was one of the most exciting games I've ever written about. Although the tie vs. Maine, a top-10 program, went under the radar and for the most part unnoticed, that doesn't mean the rest of the season should.
Naurato said the Maine tie is already behind the team. They are only looking forward to the upcoming games on the schedule, especially the outdoor event in East Hartford. He hopes it will be good exposure for the program and student body.
UConn defeated Atlantic Hockey foe RIT last year at Mark Edward Freitas Ice Forum. Later that season, RIT made the Frozen Four. This season Maine, more than UConn, has an opportunity to do the same. If the team can overachieve and pull off a couple more moral victories this season as they did in Maine, then more people will take notice.
Even people in Providence.
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