The emotions of an entire season and an entire collegiate career often culminate on Senior Night. Now imagine those emotions combined with the rivalry tensions of the Backyard Brawl. The West Virginia University hockey team will wrap up their regular season with a showdown with the Pitt Panthers at 4 p.m. Saturday.
Mountaineer seniors Thomas Brooks, Harrison Colby, Nick Burt, Jimmy Murray and Tyler Conaway will take to the ice at the Morgantown Ice Arena for the last time in their college career.
The Brawl is always a circled date on the sports calendar for any Mountaineer fan.
In fact, last year a record 1,200 fans filled into the Morgantown Ice Arena to witness WVU’s victory over the Panthers, in an arena with a maximum capacity of fewer than 500 people.
“Senior night is important because it culminates a significant experience in these players’ lives,” said WVU head coach A.J. Sturges. “Members of WVU hockey give an incredible amount to this program over the course of four years and I think it is important to honor the commitment they have made. This also marks the beginning of the next step of their lives as they transition away from being students at WVU. It is my hope that their memories of playing hockey here are positive and long lasting.”
Burt, Brooks and Conaway embraced nostalgia as they reflected on their four-year careers playing hockey for WVU.
“My fondest memory was my junior year, at home vs Pitt, we had the largest crowd ever, and we won,” Brooks said.
“My best memories from playing at WVU will be making it to the National Tournament my sophomore year and all the games we played in Charleston and Wheeling. Playing those games was so much fun and the atmosphere was incredible,” Conaway said.
“My fondest hockey memory here at WVU was beating No. 3 nationally ranked Iowa State in overtime, with an assist on the game winning goal,” Burt said.
For Conaway, it’s a particularly emotional and memorable night for the defenseman.
“This will actually be my first senior night game,” said Conaway. “In high school, I had to choose between my travel team and high school team during my senior year, so I didn’t get to have a senior night then. This will be really bittersweet and probably end up hitting me a lot harder after everything is actually done. I’m excited to be moving on in my life and hopefully starting a career, but at the same time I’ve been playing since I was five years old and hockey has always been a part of my life. I’m sure I will still play hockey in men’s leagues or whatever, but it will never be the same.”
In November, the Panthers snapped a six-game losing streak to the Mountaineers with a 5-1 home victory. But Sturges is optimistic about how his team has grown and improved since that time.
“This team has matured a lot since November, and we are looking forward to playing a complete hockey game on Saturday,” Sturges said.
“To be successful we need to be very disciplined and keep everyone engaged. Emotions will be very high this weekend with it being senior night against Pitt, so our ability to stay composed will be crucial.”
Face-off for the Backyard Brawl is at 4 p.m. on Saturday.