At a postgame interview at the TD Bank Sports Center Friday night, a minor league hockey player sported his old Quinnipiac undershirt. With a wide grin and a laugh, the player said, “I just can’t let it go.”
For the first time since his graduation, Quinnipiac men’s ice hockey star Brandon Wong returned to the ice at the TD Bank Sports Center. Wong has hung up his Quinnipiac uniform and is now playing in Hartford Wolf Pack gear.
The Wolf Pack, the New York Rangers’ top minor league affiliate, picked up a 5-1 victory over the Bridgeport Sound Tigers Friday in which Wong tallied his second pre-season point of the year. Luckily for Quinnipiac fans, the Wolf Pack scheduled a preseason game at the Bank for the 2010-2011 campaign, facilitating Wong’s return to Hamden.
Wong, sporting the unfamiliar red, white and blue Wolf Pack sweater, was first to the ice following starting goaltender Chad Johnson. Wong made his first appearance 2:24 into the first period, fittingly on the power-play, where he scored 14 out of his 19 goals in his senior season. Those 14 power-play goals were a Division I-high last season.
The hometown Hamden fans welcomed him warmly as soon as he made his way over the half-boards.
“It was nice to have that great support,” Wong said. “It was a very nice showing by the fans tonight for the game.”
Just as he did on his many power-play shifts with the Bobcats, Wong immediately made his way to the front of the Bridgeport net after Hartford won the faceoff, searching for a deflection.
As the game’s scoring opened up, it was apparent to everyone in attendance that Wong had to get in on some of the action that was to come. And they didn’t have to wait long.
Just 1:52 after the Wolf Pack’s first goal, Wong made his way over the blue line on the far side and sent a backhand pass to an open Marc-Olivier Vallerand in the slot. Vallerand’s goal proved to be the game-winner, but the one point wasn’t enough for Wong. “It was the game winner, but it was too bad I couldn’t pocket one.”
His first point back at the Bank was accompanied fittingly by the playing of Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long” or as QU fans may remember it, “All Night Wong.”
With the announcement of Wong’s assist, the crowd awarded him with yet another warm round of applause.
When asked about his former “theme” song and whether or not he heard it, Wong had a good chuckle and a big smile on his face remarking, “Oh, yeah, I did and that was real nice too.”
The third period awarded fans with plenty of scoring as all six goals were scored in the third period. Along with the scoring were some physical plays and one scary moment for fans.
Off a slap shot from the blue line, Wong was struck in the face with the puck after a deflection.
Wong was down on the ice for a little bit, but was able to get back up and continue playing after a short time on the bench. After the game, Wong was still bleeding where the puck had struck him between his bottom lip and chin.
After graduating from Quinnipiac last year, Wong signed an amateur tryout agreement with the Grand Rapids Griffins, an affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings organization. Wong played in three games with the Griffins, pocketing one point in his time there. Wong said he really enjoyed his time in Grand Rapids, even if it was only for three weeks.
“At the end of the year I got three games with them and was there for three weeks,” Wongs said. “I got to practice with them and see how things worked. It was a good old taste of the pro life at the AHL level.”
In one of his first preseason appearances with the Wolf Pack, Wong scored a point on an assist in a 3-0 victory.
“I’m really just trying to get my game back,” he said. “I am a two-way player just trying to make plays.”
If Wong can impress the Wolf Pack coaching staff enough he might be able to make it to the next level. Wong would only be the second Quinnipiac alum to dress in the NHL. In addition, Wong would be the first NHL player with full Chinese descent to hit the ice.
Reid Cashman, a 2007 alum, saw AHL action with the Toronto Marlies (affiliate of the Toronto Maple Leafs) but never played NHL minutes. The road to the pros for Wong is a tough one and he knows it.
“The guys up here are a lot stronger and faster and it is a different game. I just have to keep learning, working hard and adapting, and hopefully I can get that shot to play.”
Photo credit: Charlotte Greene