UMass honors Pat Keenan’s No. 4 ahead of Saturday night’s tilt

The 1973 alumnus is the first hockey player to be cemented in the rafters at Mullins Center

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UMass honors Pat Keenan’s No. 4 ahead of Saturday night’s tilt

Courtesy of UMass Athletics

Courtesy of UMass Athletics

Courtesy of UMass Athletics

By Liam Flaherty, Assistant Sports Editor

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First it was Cale Makar, then it was Pat Keenan.

After one Massachusetts legend was recognized prior to the start of Friday’s game, another was honored on Saturday to cap off alumni weekend as Keenan’s No. 4 was raised to the rafters, forever cementing his place in the Mullins Center as the first-ever jersey honored in UMass hockey history.

With teammates Lonnie Avery, Don Lowe, Don Riley and Bob Shilalie by his side on the carpet and a cast of several others watching on, Keenan took to the ice and was greeted with high praise as the Minutemen of the present paid tribute to the most prolific scorer that their program has ever seen.

“I just have to thank NewMass, Ryan Bamford, Greg Carvel and his staff, Ben [Barr] and Jared [DeMichiel], just outstanding,” Keenan said. “They’re so inclusive, like we’re still a part of the active program as opposed to distant memories. The experience is so much of a continuum because of the way they conduct themselves and regard us.

“Having my teammates and a couple of guys that you didn’t see, there were some really, really important people that I shared wonderful times and a championship with, right in that corner.”

Watching the banner rise, he couldn’t help but think of his late mother and the massive impact she had on him in hockey and his whole life, in general.

“My mom was a firecracker, we lost her a year and a half ago at 93, but she was behind me 100 percent all the time,” Keenan said. “She was entirely with me while I was out there on the ice tonight. I didn’t even see the crowd and just as my teammates came out, the toughest guy I know in the world, he was crying the whole time out there on the ice.”

The Toronto native enjoyed a remarkable career donning the UMass jersey at the forward position.

As the only two-time All-American in program history and the all-time leading scorer (180 points), Keenan played three seasons with UMass from 1970-73 under head coach Jack Canniff, when it still played in the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference and called Amherst’s Orr Rink home.

As a sophomore, Keenan’s 59 points on 28 goals – short of the single-season record of 34 that he set the year before, one of three that he holds – spearheaded UMass to its first and only championship season, soundly beating Buffalo 8-1 to claim the 1972 ECAC Division II crown. UMass finished the season with a then-best 19-7 mark.

Keenan wanted the night not to be just about himself, but his teammates more than anything.

“The extended folks from that era and even after,” Keenan said, “the rich friendships that have lasted this long just get richer when the program views it more as a group of you. Really, I’m a symbolic representative up there. I see all the names of all the guys that played back then up on that jersey.”

Nina Walat

Although his number is now in the rafters, he doesn’t want it to be taken off the ice; he hopes to keep it alive, passing it down to others. UMass freshman Matt Kessel currently dons the No. 4

“It’s really exhilarating to be sitting at home in Toronto watching No. 4 moving out there as opposed to it just sitting up there,” he said with a smile following the ceremony. “As the flagship school in a state where Bobby Orr is a god as No. 4, I don’t think anybody should put that one to bed.”

In addition to the all-time points record, Keenan also holds the all-time goals record, scoring 105.

In 66 games, he averaged 2.73 points per outing. He owns the single-game records for goals (seven) and assists (nine) and is one of eight hockey players enshrined in the UMass Athletics Hall of Fame.

To make his numbers even more impressive, Keenan set all of his records in just three seasons, as freshman skaters were not allowed to play on the varsity team during that era of college hockey.

So where exactly did he learn the skills necessary to put up those kinds of astronomical numbers?

“When I was five years old, they put me in net playing against 10-year-olds,” he said. “They stuck me there for three or four years, so you know how tough it is when you’re on the other side of it.”

To see the program where it is years after he left is pretty extraordinary, he said, especially after hockey was cut in 1979 before it returned at the Division I level with the Mullins Center in 1993.

He even saw the 2019 run to its fullest, making trips to Buffalo for the Frozen Four, Manchester for the NCAA regionals and even TD Garden for the Hockey East semifinal matchup last March.

“I met Greg here at an alum event and he was just – you could tell,” he said. “Then he joined us after the [2017] season with five wins at a lunch in and you couldn’t believe it. For an hour and a half, you kind of had to pull him off because he was just letting us know, ‘Hey boys, that five wins? That’s it. Watch this.’ And you knew it. Anybody can say that stuff but you’re looking at him and listening and you’re going, ‘He’s telling the truth.’ We didn’t think it would happen that fast, but for us to have that connection now and it be live and us be totally regarded as one of them as opposed to ‘those guys’, we’re here, we’re with it and we’re breathing it.”

For tonight, and as long as UMass hockey remains, Keenan – and the guys he sees when he looks up at that banner – will always be a part of the family.

Liam Flaherty can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @_LiamFlaherty.