On the surface, Ryan Keane’s path to the UConn men’s hockey team seems pretty straightforward. The Huskies’ coaching staff contacted him, the two sides hit it off and UConn checked off the necessary boxes for Keane.
But to get the full story, you need to go back to 1991, seven years before Keane was even born.
The Minnesota North Stars were struggling financially. Despite reaching the Stanley Cup finals in 1991, attendance lagged and the team was in desperate need of a new arena. Looking for greener pastures, the team planned a move to Los Angeles but an ownership group headed by the Walt Disney Company got the nod for a team instead.
In return, the NHL offered Stars owner Norm Green the opportunity to move the team wherever he chose. Staying in Minnesota was off the table — not only had he pissed off the little fanbase that remained, he also got himself in trouble at home after a former team secretary filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Green. His wife was understandably irate and offered up an ultimatum: Move the team out of Minnesota or she was gone.
So Green began to explore his options.
When word that a NHL team needed a new home reached Dallas, it caught the attention an unlikely person: former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach. Green described Staubach as “the only Texan I knew” and played an instrumental role in introducing green to the city. Staubach explained that Dallas already had an arena that could be used and as a city legend, used his connections to get money for a new arena to City Council.
Green also got to know Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who was quick to support the NHL in Dallas. Through Jones, Green convinced numerous current and former Cowboys to buy season tickets to support the team — many of whom agreed.
So in January 1993, Green officially announced that the Minnesota North Stars would move to the Lone Star State and become the Dallas Stars.
Fast forward to 1999, and the Stars are in the Stanley Cup Finals. Somehow, in the football-crazed state of Texas, hockey began taking a hold and the Keane family was one of the converts. Ryan was only a year old at the time, but the series ended up having a lasting impact on his life.
“I have an older brother and he was really into with my dad,” Keane said. “He got really into it so he started playing right after that series when they won and I just followed after him.”
“Nobody in my family (played hockey before), we’re the first ones,” he added.
Ryan eventually became a goalie and after graduating high school, he — like most elite hockey players his age — headed to the junior hockey ranks. Keane eventually joined the Jamestown Rebels of the NAHL where he thrived, winning Goaltender of the Year in 2017-18 and finishing second in the league in goals-against-average the last two seasons.
His play caught the attention of the UConn men’s hockey coaching staff and the interest quickly became mutual. While his top focus was hockey, Keane knew what he wanted in a college. It didn’t take long for him to figure out UConn checked off a lot of those boxes.
“I really liked the coaching staff, talking to them,” he said. “I always wanted to play for a pretty big school, in Texas we have some massive schools down there. I wanted to go to a bigger one and the history of program is incredible.”
Though he plays hockey, Keane also loves basketball. So with 15 combined national championships in the sport, UConn obviously jumped off the page. But the basketball teams weren’t even Keane’s first introduction to the school. His maternal grandfather graduated from UConn 60 years ago — Keane estimated.
“He was pumped,” Keane said of his grandfather’s reaction when he committed to the Huskies. “He says [UConn’s] a lot different now.”
Keane is one of three goaltenders on the Huskies’ roster and will compete with junior Bradley Stone for the backup job to Tomas Vomacka. But Keane relishes the chance to have to earn his playing time.
“Throughout juniors we always had to compete for our minutes so it’ll be like that again,” he said. “I always thrive off of that.”
But at 5-foot-9, Keane is small for a goalie. For reference, Vomacka is a whole six inches taller. So to compensate, the Texan knows he needs to battle every second he’s on the ice.
“(I play) pretty aggressive,” he said. “I’m not a big guy so I need to make sure my angles are perfect and my depth is perfect. I’m just a competitor, that’s number one.”
However, it’s fitting that Keane isn’t a typical size for his position. Nothing about Keane’s career has been typical — so why should he be any different?