Feb. 16, 2018 — The date will one day fade, as will the finer details of the game. Even the seven-game win streak will become a distant memory. But it is a night will live on in history for a long time.
It is the night UConn hockey officially arrived.
The same night the first UConn senior class to play four years in Hockey East was honored, they changed the course of the program forever.
For the first few seasons of Hockey East play, UConn hockey had limited expectations. After all, it was going to take a few years to build the program up to the lofty standards of the other teams in college hockey’s premier conference.
One day, we hoped, they would reach a point where they could compete. But until then any positives — such as beating Boston College in the Hockey East opener and hosting playoff games — were just an added bonus. Nobody knew when that day would come and until then, everyone just enjoyed the ride.
Without question, that moment came Friday night when Maxim Letunov put the puck past Boston University goaltender Jake Oettinger in overtime, securing the Huskies’ seventh-straight victory as well as his place in UConn lore.
That one exact moment can be pinpointed as the moment UConn hockey officially arrived. The moment they elevated themselves from being a fun underdog to a legitimate hockey program with legitimate expectations.
The juxtaposition with the state of men’s basketball cannot be ignored. Just one night earlier in the same building, the UConn men’s basketball team — the school’s flagship men’s program — blew a lead to an irrelevant team to sink to their lowest depths yet.
The very next night, #IceBus fought tooth-and-nail against one of the nation’s premier programs and overcame not one but two two-goal deficits in the final period and put it away in overtime.
UConn hockey stepped out from the shadow of the men’s basketball program, no longer the little brother. It was something the 7,372 fans at the XL Center all felt. The energy was different, the vibes were different. If you were there, you understand. If not, there’s no way to adequately describe it.
When Letunov’s shot hit the back of the net, UConn hockey was no longer something to do until the next basketball game. It wasn’t the new, novelty UConn sport to check out. The #IceBus finally established itself as one of the school’s top-flight programs.
The same way UConn men’s basketball did when Tate George hit “The Shot” in 1990. The same way UConn women’s basketball did when they beat No. 1 Tennessee at Gampel Pavilion in 1995.
Letunov’s goal to cap the comeback against Boston University on Feb. 16, 2018 will forever be that moment for UConn hockey.
The night that UConn hockey arrived.