SCHENECTADY — Darion Hanson knows where he isn’t going to play hockey anytime soon — back home in Minnesota.
While his college campus at Union was scheduled to be pounded by Wednesday night’s Nor’easter, the Dutchmen’s goalie was home on break on the outskirts of Minneapolis in the midst of an unusually warm winter. Even pond hockey, a Minnesota staple, is out, hardly befitting the “Land of 10,000 Lakes.”
“There are [10,000 lakes],” he said with a laugh over the phone on Wednesday afternoon. “I mean, there’s some ice out there, I guess I could go skate on it and fall through. [But] I don’t like hockey that much.”
Hanson does know where he’s going to play hockey next winter, at the University of Connecticut, after making his transfer choice recently. And there’s a lot for him to like about that move, since the school and program offer everything he’s looking for from academic and hockey standpoints.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Union chose not to play this season, leaving seniors like Hanson with decisions to make about their future. He’s on track to finish his bachelor’s degree in political science at Union this spring, then will use his final year of eligibility playing at UConn, a program on the rise in the difficult Hockey East conference.
As a junior last season, Hanson played almost all of the minutes for Union. He could be stepping into a situation at UConn where playing time is much harder to come by, but he said transferring there offers the potential for everything he’s looking for out of his final year of college hockey.
“It was a blend of things,” he said. “I think UConn is a good team in Hockey East, which obviously is a great conference. It’s an opportunity to come in and play, they have my program in their master’s departments, scholarship money is where it needed to be … it just all made way too much sense.”
The Huskies, coached by long-time Boston College assistant Mike Cavanaugh, finished fifth in the 11-team Hockey East last season, its seventh season in the league. UConn is off to a good start this year, based on a 3-1 win over No. 2-ranked Boston College on Saturday.
UConn junior goalie Tomas Vomacka actually played a higher percentage (95.5%) of minutes in 2019-20 as a sophomore than Hanson did (94.4%) for Union. Vomacka is firmly entrenched in the starting spot, with one year of eligibility left, so if the fifth-round NHL pick of the Nashville Predators comes back for his senior year instead of going pro, Hanson will be battling him for playing time.
“Being a Nashville pick, I think there’s a good chance that he will be moving on,” Hanson said. “There’s never any for-sures in this business. I’m honestly prepared for anything. Putting that aside, it’s just a really good opportunity for me, so we’ll see how that pans out.”
Once he entered the NCAA transfer portal, Hanson was in contact with seven schools, and narrowed it down to two before picking UConn.
Besides Vomacka, Hanson pointed to Adam Huska, a New York Rangers draft pick who has played in the AHL the last two seasons, as evidence of UConn’s history of success with goalies.
The Huskies have a total of eight NHL picks on their current roster.
“I’m a competitive kid, so I want to play games and win,” Hanson said. “I want to have a chance to play professional hockey. Everything I wanted here at Union, I’m going to want there as well.
“The thing that’s nice for me is I’m also getting, education-wise, the best deal I could’ve possibly got, so if any of that deal falls through, I feel like I’m still setting myself up for success in the coming years after that. But like I said, the primary focus is to be a professional hockey player, and I want every opportunity there at UConn that will get me to that level.”
In the meantime, Hanson will return for classes in January and will work out at Union and practice with the Dutchmen.
He’ll be stepping into a league next year that hasn’t taken a season off, but expects that, as a goalie, he’ll be able to be able to work on many aspects of his game without actually playing in any games.
“I’m not doing anything [hockey-wise right now],” he said. “Here in Minnesota, everything is shut down. I’m taking this opportunity to take a step back. This fall term was very stressful, with everything going on. So it’s been nice to take a step back and enjoy being a normal kid for about a month.
“I get to spend an entire year working on my game instead of spending time in team practices. Those are important, but they’re not making me better technically or better in terms of reading the game.
“We’re working on our neutral-zone ‘D’ for 30 minutes, the goalies aren’t necessarily getting better. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be doing that, but for me, instead of being on the ice for two hours, and an hour and 10 minutes of it is working on systems and special teams, I’m going to be working on my game.”