The college hockey showdown between Sacred Heart University and the University of Connecticut on Friday won't include many blue-chip prospects eligible for the 2015 NHL Draft, but it will have special meaning nonetheless at The Taft School in Watertown, Conn., at 7 p.m. ET.
In addition to the sellout crowd being treated to what is sure to be a pretty intense game between rivals, all proceeds will be donated to the family of Jason Pagni, who died in a car accident Jan. 31 at the age of 43. He left behind his wife Kate and daughters Maddy and Gabby.
Pagni was a major fixture in Connecticut hockey circles. After graduating from The Avon Old Farms School in 1989, he devoted his life to hockey in Connecticut. He was dedicated to advocating, developing and touching the lives of numerous players and parents on all levels of the sport from youth hockey, high school, prep school, college and the NHL.
One of Pagni's favorite expressions, "Everybody rides," was engraved on the back of the goalie mask of the Los Angeles Kings' Jonathan Quick during the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Quick played high school hockey at Avon Old Farms in Connecticut for three seasons. Pagni was part of Avon Old Farms' first New England championship team in 1989, and he became a youth coach and owner of Connecticut Yankees Hockey Organization and Hamden Hockey House. He coached Quick and several other NHL stars on the Yankees youth hockey team.
"He used to send text messages with his slogans," Sacred Heart men's hockey coach C.J. Marottolo told the New Haven Register. "We'd be going back and forth and then a final one would pop up. 'Keep pushing, C.J.' I'd be thinking, OK, pushing for what? I don't know. But we'll keep pushing."
Marottolo acknowledged that "Pags helped turned kids dreams into reality."
A silent auction will also take place in the evening with autographed items of several NHL players who knew Pagni, including Quick, St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, Columbus Blue Jackets forward Cam Atkinson and New York Rangers forward Martin St. Louis.
The Connecticut Huskies (2-4-3) lead the all-time series against Sacred Heart (3-5-2), 29-26-5. The teams split four games last season, with Sacred Heart winning two of the three conference games. The Huskies have a 5-3-2 edge against Sacred Heart in the past 10.