Some things never change.
If it’s hockey season, Darion Hanson has basketball on his mind.
Well, on his head, anyway.
The goalie from East Bethel, Minnesota, on the outskirts of Minneapolis, has an image of Allen Iverson custom-painted on the backplate of his Union College helmet, and vowed last week to “be at every single UConn basketball game — men’s, women’s — that I can,” this season.
That would be a difficult routine if Hanson was still actually at Union, but currently he’s in Storrs, Connecticut, using his final season of NCAA eligibility as a graduate transfer for UConn after three stellar seasons at Union and one that was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, the backplate on his Huskies helmet is graced with paintings of Kemba Walker and Maya Moore, “so I’m keeping that tradition alive,” he said. “The spark for the basketball has not gone out yet, I assure you that.”
Hanson’s stellar play apparently hasn’t been extinguished, either, despite the fact that he hadn’t been in a game since March 8, 2020, a double-overtime quarterfinal series-ending loss at Yale. Three games into his UConn season, he was named Hockey East Goalie of the Week on Tuesday in the wake of a two-game home-and-home split with tenth-ranked Boston University in which he made a total of 72 saves and allowed just three goals.
There are reminders of Union around every corner — last weekend Hanson played against former teammate Joseph Campolieto, who transferred to BU — and one of them is a role reversal in which Hanson is now the entrenched older goalie whose only competition for playing time is a young up-and-comer.
In this case, it’s freshman Logan Terness. Midway through Hanson’s sophomore season at Union in 2018-19, he supplanted veteran Jake Kupsky, and while he believes the undrafted Terness is good enough to play in the NHL someday, for now the job is Hanson’s to lose.
“I think it’s a situation like where me and Jake were,” Hanson said by phone last Wednesday, Oct. 6. “I’m an older guy. The freshman they have in here is really, really good, and I think he’ll be signing an NHL deal probably before he graduates.
“So if I mess up, he’s right there. I know better than anybody. There’s a young guy who’s right on my heels, and I’m not going to have a lot of leash.”
Coached by Mike Cavanaugh, UConn is coming off a 10-11-2 season in which the Huskies finished third in Hockey East before being knocked out in the conference quarterfinals by Providence.
Hanson, meanwhile, was still practicing with the Dutchmen in 2020-21, without any actual games to prepare for, and graduated in the spring. Union doesn’t offer a post-graduate academic track, so if Hanson was going to use his extra year of eligibility, it would have to be somewhere else.
Besides finding a good fit at UConn, where he’s continuing his studies in political science, Hanson is optimistic about the Huskies prospects this season.
He was in net for a 6-3 victory over Sacred Heart on Oct. 2 in which the Huskies outscored the Pioneers 3-0 in the third period, when Hanson made 13 saves.
“Having not played in a year and a half, I was a little nervous. Wasn’t sure if I still had it,” he said. “But I think this team we have here is really good. Lots of skill. I think that’s the difference between Hockey East and the ECAC. I think in the ECAC you see a little more grit and grind, real shutdown ‘D.’ Here, it’s make the extra pass instead of chip it in, for better or worse.
“But otherwise, it’s just hockey at the end of the day. Just get in front of pucks, no matter how they’re getting to you. It’s not like there are kids in the ECAC that can’t make plays. In the Hockey East, it’s just a slightly different style.”
Besides keeping his old Dutchmen helmet in his dorm at UConn, Hanson gets a constant reminder of his days as Union’s goalie — in fact, the final day itself — through teammate Kevin O’Neil, an Albany Academy graduate from Latham.
O’Neil, who scored an empty-netter to make it 5-3 in the Sacred Heart win, was on the Yale team that beat Union in double overtime in 2020.
He and Hanson showed up this summer as the first two of three grad transfers and immediately became roommates. That set the stage for some spirited debate over Yale’s 2-1 win, in which Hanson made 50 saves but gave up the game-winner moments after Union had had a goal disallowed for goalie interference that the Dutchmen question to this day.
“The week leading up to this [Sacred Heart game], we were talking about how it’s been 500-some days since our last game, and the last game we played was against each other,” Hanson said with a laugh. “Annnd … we don’t talk about it too much, but we have given each other a little bit of [trash], like, Kev’s last game at Yale, he won, thanks to me.”
Hanson said he likes UConn’s offensive firepower — Union averaged just 1.8 goals per game his junior season — and believes the Huskies have a legitimate shot at making the NCAA Tournament.
Having missed a season, he has no idea what his standing is anymore as a pro prospect, and he’s OK with that, as reflected by the fact that he chose to graduate on time from Union because academics were always at least as important as hockey to him.
“There’s more to my life than hockey, and I hope I’m lucky enough to have a life that gives me more to live for, I guess, than just hockey,” he said. “And if that comes next year, so be it. But if I have the [pro hockey] opportunity, which I’m fully capable of and I fully hope happens, great, let’s do it.
“I know I’m going to be interested in no matter what it is [outside hockey], whether that’s working for NGOs or non-profits or think tanks, things like that. As long as I’m in a space where, personally, I can do things that I think help people, that are intellectually engaging and involve something political, I’m going to enjoy it.”