NEW HAVEN -- The unlucky ones, the ones who could only manage a standing room-only ticket, packed themselves along the ramps on either side of the rink, pressing up against the protective railing three to four deep. Those who were fortunate enough to have a bench seat ticket could have made a nice profit if they had decided to sell. But if they had, they would have missed out on a piece of history.
With No. 2 ranked-Quinnipiac playing No. 8 Yale Saturday night at the Ingalls Rink, it's safe to say that New Haven hasn't experienced this kind of hockey excitement since ... well, maybe never, especially on the college level. No offense to the Eagles of the mid-1920s or the Blades of the mid-1950s or the Nighthawks of the mid-1970s, but Saturday night, the Bulldogs and the Bobcats put on a heck of a show in front of a supercharged and packed house.
Spotting Yale a 2-0 lead after just six minutes, Quinnipiac regrouped and netted six unanswered goals to beat the Bulldogs 6-2 in front of what the stat sheet said was 3,500 but was obviously more.
"I thought the atmosphere in the building was electric," said Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold.
All 2,908 seats in Ingalls Rink had been sold for weeks in advance and the fire marshal allows for another 600 people or so to stand in the lobby area and along the side railings. It's a safe bet that there were a lot more than 3,500 in the rink.
Oh, yes it was. It was the first time in recent memory that two top-10 teams in the same sport (and from the same area) played each other. And while both are ranked in the top 10 nationally, in the Division I PairWise rankings -- a formula designed to pick the 16 teams to the NCAA hockey tournament -- Quinnipiac is No. 1 while Yale is tied for No. 6.
"It's a huge rivalry," said Pecknold, who's now 8-5-2 in 15 meetings against Yale. "It's at the point now where it's almost become an event, which is great for the state of Connecticut. And certainly when you have two teams in the top five in the Pairwise, it adds a little spice to it.
"I thought both teams competed and played hard. Fortunately, we came out on top."
Before the game, tickets were being discreetly scalped for upwards of $50 -- five times the face value. A Yale sports information assistant said he saw tickets offered on StubHub for $200.
Steve Conn, Yale's sports information director, who's been working at the university since 1987, said that he'd never seen "as much anticipation for a game," and for the first time that he can recall, Yale placed additional media tables near the lobby area to handle the overflow. Conn also said that he heard from some of the hockey old-timers around the New Haven area that this might be the most anticipated hockey game in New Haven history, big words considering hockey's been played here in the Elm City for almost 100 years.
Sadly, our state hasn't seen a lot of championship-level hockey events like this, although the Hartford Wolfpack won the AHL's Calder Cup in 2000. The New Haven Nighthawks reached the Calder Cup finals four times (losing all four), the Bridgeport Sound Tigers lost in the 2001-02 Calder Cup finals, and the Hartford Whalers did have that one NHL playoff-round victory over Quebec in 1985-86 -- and they did win the WHA title in 1972-73.
And the best thing is that these two teams will meet again, over in Hamden at the TD Bank Sports Center on Feb. 22.
"I think that game has been sold out since August," Pecknold said. "We've got them again in three weeks. It'll be the same atmosphere. It'll be great. It'll be an even tougher ticket to get."