For the seniors, there and back again
Joseph Cecconi and Brendan Warren sat silently and thought for a moment.
Three years removed from their first trip to New York, the seniors could barely remember how the game in Madison Square Garden went during their first collegiate season.
“I don’t remember the game at all,” Cecconi said, laughing. “But if I had to take a snap at it, we were down a few goals and then we threw out the CCM line, and then we came back, so I’m going to go with that.”
He wasn’t wrong. The CCM line — consisting of JT Compher, Kyle Connor and Tyler Motte — accounted for five total points, scoring three goals and two assists. Two of the goals were part of a third-period comeback during a 6-3 win.
But the game itself was the least memorable part of the trip. They were two freshmen with the city that never sleeps at the palm of their hands. And for Warren, it was his first time.
“That was a really cool experience,” Warren said. “I’ve never been to the city, or at least Madison Square Garden, around there, so it was cool being with the team.
“Got a little bit of time sightseeing, and we played in MSG, which is obviously iconic and historic and we got to watch the basketball game before that, and that was really cool. It was a really fun experience.”
With a little bit of time on their hands, they walked eight blocks north, venturing through Times Square on their way to the arena to watch the basketball game preceding theirs — before Michigan faced off against Penn State on the ice, the Michigan men’s basketball team tipped off against Penn State on the hardwood. For the two freshmen, playing at Madison Square Garden fulfilled a lifelong dream.
“It was fun. Up until then, I don’t think I’ve played a game in an NHL rink,” Cecconi said. “Except if we did the 'Duel in the D' or the Great Lakes Invitational so I guess I did, but it’s always fun to play in an NHL rink because it’s your dream one day to play in rinks like that. So when you can do it in college, just a fun different experience than a college atmosphere.”
The excitement wasn’t all in the sightseeing, the city exploration or even the game itself. As Cecconi noted, once you start playing, you don’t “remember how many fans were there, or how long the goal horns are.” What stood out to him was the build up.
“Everything is there (at Madison Square Garden): basketball, hockey, concerts. Everyone knows Madison Square Garden for all the sports and all the music festivals and things like that, so just the hype around New York City and Madison Square Garden, that’s what I remember the most.”
Fast forward three years — an eventful three years that encompassed a Big Ten Tournament championship and a Frozen Four appearance — and Cecconi had a chance to relive the hype. Three years ago, they were wide-eyed freshmen looking to tour the city. Ten days ago, they were focused seniors who already experienced some incredible memories.
The team arrived in the city on the afternoon of Jan. 25. With no practice, everyone had downtime to do whatever they wanted.
“We got to do a lot more sightseeing,” Warren said. “First day we got there, we got there early. We walked around Times Square, went into a bunch of stores. And then walked around 5th Ave., went to some of the designer stores just to see some of the stuff we can’t afford.”
Only a few hours were to themselves, though, as the team got together for a team meal at Carmine’s and then left for the hotel. Just like they did three years ago, Cecconi and Warren were able to take in the mystique of the city that never sleeps.
But while Michigan had a fantastic Friday once again, the team to have a super Saturday was the one hailing from State College. The Wolverines once again fell to an early deficit against Penn State, but with no CCM line to stage a rescue, Michigan ultimately lost 5-2.
“On the ice, not the outcome we wanted,” Warren said. “Probably worse than freshman year because we won the first one.”
Win or loss, the experience the two had was something that resonated with them through their collegiate career. As much as it was for hockey, it was for much more.