“Moral Victory” is a term that seems to be almost immediately scratched from ones vocabulary when the become a “Paid Coach.”
Reason being? As soon as one starts prefacing the word “Victory” with “Moral” in their post game press conferences, there is usually someone above them looking to eliminate the word “Paid” from their title of “Coach.”
Over the past two weeks there has been increased speculation regarding the University of Connecticut’s potential move to Hockey East to take what would be the conference’s 12th spot in 2013-2014. As a 2006 graduate of the program and the University, I was thrilled to hear that what has always seemed like a logical next step for UConn and Hockey East may in fact come to fruition.
There are hurdles that must be overcome before any deals are finalized. The addition of scholarships and a plan for improved on campus facilities to name two. But since I am since retired athlete and not a current administrator, I figured I would take this time to reflect on the past rather than try and resolve the world’s problems that may or may not come in the future. That’s what washed up athletes do!
My college hockey career at UConn began in 2002, just a few seasons after the Huskies became a Division 1 program. We played in the MAC (now the Atlantic Hockey Association) which as a league was a far cry in terms of on ice talent and off ice following from Hockey East.
How far? The first time I ever suited up to play college hockey was in October of my freshman year. We travelled to Boston to face off against a Hockey East opponent in a non-conference season opener. It was a dream come true….right until about the time they dropped the puck. It was 4-0 after the first and 10-1 when the celebration finally ceased in the opposing team’s barn. I won’t get into too many graphic details regarding just how long those 60 minutes were, but I will tell you that after Week 1 of the 2002-2003 college hockey season, Northeastern University must have had five frontrunners in the early race for the Hobey.
There were no moral victories that night for our squad. Just a long 90 minute bus ride home with the realization we had an even longer way to go. In time, for our club and the rest of the league, the margin of defeats against our more established opponents narrowed. As a result of ever improving programs, limited expansion over the last decade, and more strategic scheduling, you don’t see too many 10-1 Division 1 college hockey games these days.
Over the next two seasons, while the term “moral victory” still was never uttered aloud in our locker room, we learned the importance of taking pride in progress. We never wanted to lose, and certainly had no interest in ever being embarrassed as we had on that opening night again. The ideas of at least closing that gap and maybe even squeaking out a tie against a Hockey East foe became more realistic, but still unspoken, goals in the room during my time at UConn.
By my junior year, the fear of giving up double digit goals in a single 60 minute game had for the most part passed. We expected to be competitive when entering hostile opposing barns, even if we lacked the scholarships and high end talent the guys we lined up against had.
Just over two years after my dubious intro to college hockey commenced, we were back in Massachusetts to face another Hockey East opponent during the first month of the season. This time the outcome was different.
After 60 minutes of play, the score was tied 2-2 and we were headed for overtime. I remember almost nothing about the first 64 minutes and 51 seconds of that game, but the final 5 seconds I will look back on and smile at for years to come.
With 9 seconds left we had an offensive zone face off in one of the larger rinks in the country. I was set to take the draw when a timeout was called. I headed back to the circle with a bit of a smirk on my face because, while there was no such thing as moral victories at this level, well, I wasn’t getting paid to play so yeah, that is exactly what a tie would have meant at that moment!
We had a play drawn up that would allow us a chance to win. More importantly, I didn’t think with 200 feet for our opponents to cover there was any chance we could lose. The amazing part? When that timeout was called and they went to their bench to draw up what I assumed was a defensive strategy to thwart our attack, they didn’t think they could lose either. Years later I was told that the play our Hockey East opponents had actually drawn up beginning in their defensive zone was incredibly offensive minded despite time running down. In my head, the win would have been awesome, but it probably would have taken a week to get the smile off of my face that would have come with a tie. On the other bench, the tie wouldn’t have killed them, but clearly a win was their only real acceptable outcome.
In anticipation of a clean face off win, the opposing coach had drawn up a wrap and counter pinch. They had instructed three of their five skaters on the ice to take off at the drop of the puck and all but flee the defensive zone in hopes of an offensive strike of their own. NINE seconds were on the clock!
We won the ensuing face off and ran the play we had drawn up to perfection. This was of course made easier by the fact that there were only two defensive players left in the zone, but that’s not how any of us will retell the tale of the program’s first win over a Hockey East opponent in the years to come.
Moral victories may end in sports once paychecks begin being collected, but understanding where you started, where you are, and where you want to be is what both athletics and life as a whole are really all about.
UConn Hockey is well aware of all three of those things as they look to take their next steps towards becoming one of college hockey’s elite in the years to come.