Connecticut up for grabs: Storylines aplenty as teams gear up for CT Ice Tournament


Aidan Sheedy

Connecticut’s four Division I men’s hockey teams will converge on Hamden Friday and Saturday.

Cameron Levasseur, Sports Editor

For the third time in four years, Connecticut’s four Division I men’s hockey teams will face off on January’s final weekend, all vying to be crowned kings of the Nutmeg State. But this year, things will be a little bit different. 

While still named the Connecticut Ice Tournament, the venue has shifted from Bridgeport’s Total Mortgage Arena to M&T Bank Arena in Hamden. New York-based network SNY TV put on the tournament’s previous two iterations, but had been reported to have moved away from the tournament until a Jan. 27 announcement from Quinnipiac Athletics

Quinnipiac, UConn, Sacred Heart and Yale each head into the tournament with vastly differing records, but all four believe they have a shot to bring home the trophy. 

Reigning champion Quinnipiac once again enters the fray as the tournament favorite, boasting an 18-3-3 record on the season – but there may be trouble in paradise. The Bobcats were swept this past weekend for the first time since 2020. They were shutout by Cornell 4-0 on Friday before allowing three unanswered goals a day later, falling to Colgate 3-2 to head home from the Central New York swing winless. 

“I just felt we weren’t prepared for that kind of playoff atmosphere. That’s on me; I thought we were, but we weren’t,” Bobcats’ head coach Rand Pecknold said to Hearst Connecticut’s Michael Fornabaio. “It’s not what we wanted, but it’s a teachable moment.”

Coming off a tough weekend, Quinnipiac will look to refocus and bounce back as it tries to claim the second of six trophies outlined at the beginning of the season. 

UConn, who fell to the Bobcats in the tournament championship a year ago, has put forth a stronger product than the previous season. The Huskies come into Hamden 15-7-3, tied for second in Hockey East and ranked No. 12 in the national polls. 

While having cooled off from its 9-1-1 start to the season, UConn is undeniably still a formidable opponent. The Huskies are coming off a sweep of UMass and have balanced scoring up and down their lineup. 

Leading the charge is junior forward Ryan Tverberg and freshman forward Matthew Wood, who sit at 22 and 21 points, respectively. Wood, a projected lottery pick in the 2023 NHL Draft, is a big-bodied winger with a strong shot and tremendous skill in the offensive zone. He has points in five straight games for the Huskies. 

Sacred Heart also comes into the tournament looking to solidify its midseason success with some hardware. The Pioneers are 12-9-2 through 23 games and are only four points behind RIT for the top spot in Atlantic Hockey. They approach the back half of the season with the hope of bringing home the first conference title in program history in what could be their second winning season in the past decade. 

“Every team strives to win championships — and we’re no different,” head coach C.J. Marottolo said. “So to be able to have a tournament like this where there’s a championship on the line, I think your team can take a lot out of it … I think at the end of the day, we’ll grow from this event and playing in these high pressure situations.”

On top of taking five of six points in a series with Holy Cross this past Weekend, Sacred Heart also has bolstered spirits in the wake of Matire Family Arena opening two weeks ago, giving the team its first on-campus home in its 30 year history. 

“(It) was an electric atmosphere, the student section was absolutely crazy,” Marottolo said. “I think overall, it’s a game changer for us in terms of where our program is and where we want it to go.”

It took overtime for Quinnipiac to take down a sub-.500 Pioneers in the 2022 tournament opener. This year’s team looks more dangerous, returning its top seven scorers and gaining a significant a scoring punch from senior forward Kevin Lombardi (9-8-17) and freshman forward Marcus Joughin (7-11-18), though Joughin was out of the lineup against Holy Cross. 

“For a freshman to adjust to the college game, he’s hit the ground running and he’s been a real big boost to our group,” Marottolo said. “Kevin Lombardi was on pace to have a great year last year and he blew out his knee, so it’s taken him a little while to get back and feel comfortable again, but he’s really been a go to guy for us over the last month or so.”

As expected, Yale comes into the weekend as the longshot for the title. The Bulldogs have won just three games on the season and sit dead last in ECAC Hockey. 

But as of recent, the New Haven school has been relatively hot – by its standards. Since the new year began, Yale has gone 1-2-3, tying a quality opponent in Merrimack and taking No. 10 Harvard into overtime. 

Behind that surge is sophomore goaltender Luke Pearson, who has proven difficult to beat since taking the starting job from junior Nathan Reid in December. 

Despite playing behind a defense allowing an average of 30 shots per game, Pearson leads the nation in both goals against average (1.69) and save percentage (.941), putting the nation’s worst scoring offense (1.4 goals per game) in a position to win games. 

If Pearson can continue to stand on his head, the Bulldogs have a chance to shock Connecticut in Hamden. 

The tournament begins on Friday with a semifinal matchup between UConn and Yale at 4 p.m., followed by Quinnipiac and Sacred Heart at 7 p.m. The winners of the two games will meet at 7 p.m. Saturday evening, with the losers facing off at 4 p.m.