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HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Quinnipiac hockey coach Rand Pecknold had heard talk about creating a Connecticut version of Boston's Beanpot college hockey tournament for about 15 years.
Personalities, scheduling, financing, other priorities — something had always prevented it from becoming reality.
But this weekend, after three years of negotiations spearheaded by regional television network SNY, the teams of Quinnipiac, Yale, Sacred Heart and UConn will face off in the first Connecticut Ice festival at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport.
UConn will play Quinnipiac and Yale will take on Sacred Heart in Saturday's semifinals. The championship and consolation games will be held Sunday.
“We are looking forward to it," said Yale coach Keith Allain. "The coolest part is the way they’ve incorporated the youth hockey community with games and events throughout the weekend. This is a great state for youth hockey and it’s nice to expose these kids to college hockey.”
The festival will include high school, prep school and youth games, a mites jamboree and clinics run by USA Hockey. About 700 players are expected to take the ice and and SNY has reached out to all 39 youth hockey leagues to offer discount tickets and publicize the festival, said network President Steve Raab.
Pecknold said the schools hope the event will get kids in the state excited about the sport and help create a generation of homegrown hockey talent to recruit.
"I think hockey has kind of taken off in our state,” Pecknold said. “We want that to kind of permeate down to the youth levels to keep pushing and create more great players than we do already.”
UConn coach Mike Cavanaugh was an assistant for 18 years at Boston College, and saw what the Beanpot tournament has meant to recruiting there. The best players in that area stay home for college, because they grow up watching the Beanpot (which was first played in 1952) and dream of playing for BC, Boston University, Northeastern or Harvard, he said
“There's not a question in my mind that this tournament can have a Beanpot-like effect on the state of Connecticut,” he said.
There are already some built-in story lines. Yale beat Quinnipiac, which is located just nine miles from the Ivy League school's campus, for the 2013 national championship and games between the two routinely sell out. UConn, Sacred Heart and Quinnipiac were once rivals in the Atlantic Hockey conference.
UConn joined the high-profile Hockey East conference in 2014. Sacred Heart moved from a tiny rink in Milford to the 10,000-seat Webster Bank arena three years ago as part of an effort to upgrade the program. It's ranked nationally this season for the first time in school history.
“We've been the stepchild for quite a while,” Sacred Heart athletic director Bobby Valentine said. “This event could put us at a different level in collegiate hockey. Our kids are more excited about this than they were about Christmas.”
The tournament has a two-year commitment from SNY, which will televise the games. It's not clear what will happen after that.
SNY's Raab said the goal is to make it an annual event for the foreseeable future. He likes the idea of creating a hockey showcase on the weekend before the Super Bowl, which also would be just after the world junior championships end.
Whether the tournament will remain in Bridgeport or perhaps rotate to other venues has not been determined, he said.
“Whatever we can do to keep growing the Connecticut Ice festival, we're going to do," he said. “A lot of people have talked about making it an outdoor event at Rentschler Field (in East Hartford). That could be spectacular. But, we first want to establish this. We want to make it great. Then we'll talk about are there geographic considerations that help to grow this festival for the state.”
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