While I was born in Buffalo, NY, I didn’t have cable growing up, so I pretty much never watched hockey. I have only dim recollections of the Sabres 99 cup run and of Ray Bourque and Dave Andreychuk hoisting the cup for Colorado and Tampa Bay.
It wasn’t until I began attending Clarkson University in the Fall of 2004 that I had the chance to watch any hockey at all. With the NHL locking out and Clarkson giving free admission to both Men’s and Women’s games for students, my hockey fandom began in green and gold.
My Freshman year was the Women’s first year of ECAC play and despite being a new program, they held their own and finished a respectable 8th at 7-12-1 in conference play. It was exciting to watch that program start to shape itself and to try to continue Clarkson’s long and storied history of successful hockey. Those early years were built on the back of legitimate superstar Kira Hurley in net and to this day my most memorable hockey experience was Clarkson’s 2-0 defeat of #1 ranked and bitter rival St. Lawrence University at home in Cheel Arena.
My roommate and I got there a few hours early to reserve our seats so we ended up in the third row of the student section behind the opposing netminder. (How I killed three hours in a pre-smartphone world, I do not know.) Clarkson started the scoring three and a half minutes in with a perfectly executed 2 on 1 and it was plainly evident early on that Kira Hurley was not going to be beat. Sixteen minutes later they added a powerplay goal on what I remember being another very well executed play and that was all they needed. That game set the record for attendance at a Women’s game by a solid 700 fans and the crowd was a major factor in the upset victory.
I’ve been following Clarkson hockey on and off since graduating in 2008. It helped that my dad held season tickets for a while and my sister just graduated this past year. But it was Clarkson’s spectacular run to the 2014 National Championship that elevated my interest and transformed this sport from something I wanted to follow to something I wanted to write about and invest myself in.
I like it for a lot of reasons, but mainly because it’s really fun to watch (Clarkson’s National Championship victory was as good a game as I’ve ever seen), and because it suffers from an undeserved lack of coverage. The ability to create statistical analyses that no one outside of some school’s scouting departments are providing is, undeniably, also a huge draw for me.
Clarkson’s win last season over juggernaut Minnesota makes the sport even more interesting because it no longer feels like the WCHA’s title to lose. (Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Minnesota-Duluth had won every NCAA championship up until Clarkson’s victory.) With Clarkson winning a title and the emergence of Boston College (Hockey East) and Quinnipiac (ECAC), the race feels more open than it ever has and it’s possible that every team that makes the 8 team NCAA tourney could think they can win it all and not be completely crazy.