Saturday, June 8, 2013

Chapter 6: More on Uconn

Those four years flew by.  I had no more injuries to deal with, but my back was the source of ongoing pain.  I never did do enough stretching.  I recall thinking if I ever coached or had a kid who played hockey I would make sure to stress the importance of stretching.

I thoroughly enjoyed my days at Uconn.   We were a middle of the road Division 2 program. In those days it wasn't the same D1/DIII split that you see today.  Our opponents included some of the current day NESCAC schools:  Amherst, Bowdoin, Colby, Wesleyan, Trinity,  Williams.  We played Army, the Univerity of Vermont, St. Anselms, AIC, Umass(Amherst), Lowell Tech(later Umass/lowell), Babson, Holy Cross, Hamilton and New Haven College. We also faced Nichols, Salem State, New England College and North Adams State.   Quinnipiac was merely a local commuter college at the time with no hockey program.

The University of Vermont was the only legit Division 1 team we faced.  We played them my freshman and sophomore seasons.  The beat us 6-2 and 7-1.  In the game during my freshman year I met up with my old buddy John Glynne.  I hip checked him into the boards and ended up breaking his leg in the process...Not only could I get hurt, occasionally I dished it out as well.  I felt badly, but there was no love lost. (I did a little fact checking to verify this.  What I found was that he was drafted 185th in the 1975 NHL amateur draft.  It states that he missed most of his freshman season at UVM with a broken ankle. Close enough)  One other point, Dave Taylor was drafted 210th in the 15th round.  He was considered to be too skinny to play in the NHL.  Went on to have his jersey retired by the Los Angeles Kings.

My final college game was at Lowell. We lost 5-4.  I had what I thought was 99 total career points going into the game. I scored the last goal of the game on a slap shot from the left point. I took the shot, not expecting much to happen and watched it sail through some traffic and into the top right corner of the net.  It's the only goal I remember from all four years.  It turns out when the final stats came out I had a point I didn't know about so I ended with 101.  My anthropology major had no math requirement.  

Our games against Army were never close.  It was always the pot smoking liberal hippies versus the battle ready soldiers.  They wore crew cuts.  We had long hair and beards.  They were in tip top shape.  We ran the stadium stairs.  They played with a level of intensity worthy of storming Iwo Jima. We were hoping to escape with our lives.  We joked about their sticks having bayonets. Of the four times we faced them the closet scores were 7-3 and 8-4.  The other two games ended with scores of 9-1 and 11-0.  They were not fun to face. 

Frank and I played on a line with Our centerman, Gene Cufone,(Gene "on-the-phone" Cufone)  for our sophomore and junior years.  All three of us wore Lange skates and were called "the Lange Gang."   Lange was a ski boot company that decided to get into the ice hockey skate business in the 70s.  The Lange's were pretty good skates with the outer boot constructed out of the same hard plastic material as their ski boots.  They were quite protective for blocking shots.  But they tended to crack near the tendon guards.  The Lange factory was right down the road in Tolland, Connecticut.  We would drive down to the plant and trade in our skates for new ones anytime the shell started to crack.   I went back to CCM Tacks for my senior season.  

You may know that the Uconn mascot is the Husky.  Frank and I lived in a funky old colonial house on Coventry Lake our senior year.  We thought it would be a good idea to get a husky puppy. Chick magnet you know.  Even though we both had girlfriends.  Frank's girlfriend was Pat.  They got and are married to this day.  Mine was Maureen, Mo.  We never got married.  That's another story which I will tell in a bit.  

We ended up getting the cutest little blue eyed, silver gray and white husky puppy you've ever seen.  We called him Keemo. We never should have been allowed to own a dog.  You will see why soon. 

Keemo was probably only eight or ten weeks old when we got him. Puppy breath, fluffy fur, not housebroken.  Frank and I co-parented him. He never was well trained.  He did a great job attracting the ladies, but he was a runner.  We couldn't take him anywhere with having him on leash or he would take off.   

We got him in the summer and by that winter he was nearly full sized. He must have been about eight months old.  When we left each morning for class we left him alone to run and roam.   Coventry lake was huge and frozen.  Keemo would wander all day and greet us when we returned home from hockey practice at dinner time. 

One afternoon we got back and Keemo was nowhere to be found.  The next morning the sheriff showed up and informed us, "Your dog is killed."  Wtf?  He told us that Keemo had killed a farmer's sheep and the farmer shot him.  We never believed this. We thought at most Keemo may have come upon the dead sheep and helped himself.  On the other hand, huskies have wolf in their DNA and we had to admit it was possible.  Regardless, it was as if our child had been shot in cold blood. 

We were in shock. That was and still is one of the saddest moments of my life.  I told you we never should have been dog owners.  This is why.  We had a game that night and I remember Frank and I looking at each other on the bench doing everything we could not to break down in tears. 

The season ended with out much fanfare.  We never made the playoffs. Not once in my career.  My senior season was the worst of my four years.  We went 8-14-2 that year.  My first 2 years we had winning records of 15 and 10 and we went .500 my junior year.  However, I think that last year was the most enjoyable.  All the pot smokers had moved on by then.   Coach Chapman coached another four years before retiring and handing over the reins to my teammate Ben Kirtland.  Ben went on coach for seven seasons...He's now in federal prison due to involvement in a ticket scam he participated in as associate athletic director at Kansas University.  Coach Chapman coached a total of 24 years at Uconn and passed away in 2002 at the age of 76.   I never spoke to him after I left Uconn.

Back then, junior hockey was not such a big deal.  At least not at the level we played.  I,  like most players,  went straight from high school to college.  I did get  an offer from the Yale coach when I was a senior at West Haven High to do a post graduate year at Taft prep school.  My parents nixed that idea.  So I was 21 at the beginning of my senior year.  Lucky for us, the drinking age at that time in Connecticut was 18.  Of course today, it's the norm for players to be 20 or 21 year old freshmen when they get to college due to the almost mandatory junior hockey route.

I mentioned at the end if my last entry I would talk about something that would change every thing.  I'll get to that next time. 

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