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Hall of Famer Gordie Howe was on hand to drop
the ceremonial first puck at Quinnipiac University's
first game in their brand new TD Banknorth Sports Center

Bob Snow | correspondent
Feb 1, 2007, 12:00 PM EST

Even Gordie Howe knows about the growth of college hockey, especially at Quinnipiac University.

In consistent transition since 1975, Quinnipiac went big last year, becoming the ECACHL's 12th team, after moving from Atlantic Hockey. For most of this inaugural season, 13-year head coach Rand Pecknold's top-20-ranked Bobcats have sat atop the league standings.

Sunday, however, the university and its capacity 3,286 faithful, adorned in gold-and-blue, went over the top, streaming in for the first game in its state-of-the-art, $52 million TD Banknorth Sports Center, atop York Hill and overlooking the Hamden, Connecticut campus. The complex is only one of four in the Northeast with independent hockey and basketball arenas under the same roof.

After New York Rangers anthem singer John Amirante bellowed the national anthem, Howe, Honorary Chairman of the Sports Campaign, dropped the ceremonial first faceoff.

"We had a pretty good team at Saskatchewan, the college team there," reflected "Mr. Hockey". "As kids, we played against them, and I learned a ton."

How did Howe get involved with Quinnipiac?

"It was great just to be invited and included in this; the respect is wonderful," said Howe, who calls nearby Hartford his home. "I've always said, 'If somebody asks for your autograph, stop. If they like you that much, you return the favor.'"

Two years ago, the $90 million Agganis Arena opened on the storied campus at Boston University; this season began with festivities to open the $35 million Steve Cady Arena at Miami of Ohio.

"The TD Banknorth Sports Center effectively raises the bar for the entire Quinnipiac University athletics program," said Val Belmonte, Quinnipiac's vice president for athletics and marketing.

"For Quinnipiac, it's great; for the league, it's a jewel," said ECACHL Commissioner Steve Hagwell.

Bobcats Athletic Director Jack McDonald's long history at Denver, where he hired George Gwozdecky in 1994, and was involved in the early planning of its new rink that opened in 1999, served to advance the on- and off-ice initiatives to put Quinnipiac on the hockey map.

"You can be on the right track," said McDonald post-game, "but if you stand still, you'll get run over. I could not have imagined what happened today or even the last two years. I came here in 1995, and it happened because of nice good steps, not big steps."

With college-hockey attendance records broken each year, the first-ever red light by Matt Sorteberg at 6:27 of the second period on the power play en route to the 7-0 rout of former Atlantic rival Holy Cross signals yet another step in the growth chart across the Bobcat fan base.

Ben Cook attends the university, and hails from Prince Edward Island. "Everyone's really excited about this rink," said Cook as he headed through the turnstiles. "You see all the lights up here from campus and it's a great feeling."

Karl Mauhs has lived in Hamden all his life -- and also stays close to the action. "What's good about (the new rink) is that it accentuates hockey, and I love hockey. Been a fan all my life and still play at 74."

Those "good steps" referenced by MacDonald relate most to recruiting for Pecknold.

"This is the pinnacle for us so far," said Pecknold, "but we want to be a top-20 team year in and year out. We have work to do, but this facility will help with recruiting; Brandon Wong shows that. He was probably the best player on the ice tonight."
Indeed, at the beginning of the new Quinnipiac era is Wong, the super skating freshman cut from the molds of fellow British Columbia natives Paul Karyia and Jason Krog. Wong leads the team in goals and scoring at 17-12-29 in 23 games.

"I came on a visit here and really liked it," said Wong - who tallied 128 points last year for Merritt of the BCHL -- after a post-game team-autographing session. "You get the education as well, and my parents have really backed that up going this route. This new facility and Rand and the coaching staff are bringing this program along.

"One of my idols was Paul Kariya, and his younger brother Martin -- they had an impact on my career going to college. I didn't know Jason Krog, but I knew he beat out Steve Kariya for the Hobey Baker Award."

"ECAC and Hockey East have established themselves as premier leagues in the NCAA," said Krog Monday night after his Rangers pasted the Bruins, and about the East-coast lure for B.C. players." They're ranked well in school and in hockey."

The on-ice idol at Quinnipiac is standout senior and top-free-agent come July 1, captain Reid Cashman from Red Wing, Minnesota. A two-time All-American, and Hobey Baker finalist last year, Cashman's middle name is "Commitment."

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