HAMDEN — The sellout crowd at the men’s hockey game on Saturday night stood and clapped loudly for at least a minute, but not for either the Yale or Quinnipiac skaters. The 4,267 people in attendance were cheering after the public address announcer drew their attention to Olympic gold medalist moguls skier Hannah Kearney, sister of Bulldog left winger Denny Kearney ’11.
The Olympian returned to her hometown in New Hampshire from Vancouver the day before and drove here after a parade in her honor just hours before. After a journey of more than 3,000 miles, Hannah was rewarded by seeing her brother score two goals for Yale, a feat he accomplished for the second time this season against the Bobcats.
“I’m really proud of him,” Hannah said with a smile. “I like to think I had something to do with it.”
But the Olympic champion missed Denny’s second score of the night while doing an interview with NESN, the TV station broadcasting the rivalry game.
After the Bulldogs lost, 3–2, Hannah was surrounded by a polite but large crowd of fans hoping for a photo or autograph from America’s first gold medalist of the Vancouver Winter Games.
But she had yet to see her brother.
Hannah, a stalwart supporter of Yale Hockey, said she has traveled to every game she could and even mentioned the team in an interview with NBC’s Olympics anchor Bob Costas on Feb. 15.
“The Red Sox and Yale seem to come up a lot in interviews, because that’s what I spend the most time doing,” Hannah said.
Yale head coach Keith Allain said Hannah has become part of the hockey family. During a road trip on Jan. 21, the Bulldogs had dinner with Hannah at the Herb Brooks Arena — the site of the U.S. Hockey team’s renowned victory over the Soviet Union at the 1980 Winter Olympics — in Lake Placid, N.Y. The Elis were on their way to face Clarkson and St. Lawrence, while Hannah had been competing in a World Cup skiing event being held just nine miles away.
“She was a friend of the hockey team before she was an Olympic gold medalist and I think our guys feel a close connection with Hannah,” Allain said. “They were so proud and happy when she won the gold medal, that somehow they feel connected and feel a part of it.”
Hannah has skied competitively since she was 17 and has spent over four years pursuing her Olympic dream. She finished a disappointing 22nd after falling on a qualifying run in her first Olympics in Torino in 2006.
In what she deemed redemption for the disappointment of the Italy games, Hannah put down a 26.63 point run in Vancouver on the night of Feb. 13. She was the final skier after Canada’s hope for a curse-breaking first gold medal on home soil — Jenn Heil — took the lead from American Shannon Bahrke.
Hannah, with her signature pigtails sticking out the back of her helmet, entered the top moguls cleanly, throwing a solid backflip layout on the top jump. She sped through the middle section flawlessly before launching a huge helicopter to cross the finish line with the fastest time of the night.
The Yale men’s hockey team, on the road at the time, had arranged an internet connection on the bus. They watched Hannah win gold in Canada after their own dramatic overtime victory against Cornell.
“I knew that she would have a chance to win,” Denny said. “And then to be able to watch live and see her with a gold medal was just incredible.”
Allain added, “The cheers on the bus were as if they had won the gold medal.”
Since that night 19 days ago, it has been a whirlwind for 24-year-old Hannah. She spoke with her brother on the phone for the first time two days after winning her gold. At 1 p.m. that day she still had not slept since the morning she woke up for the event.
“It’s an honor [to win the first gold] because our team has been doing well since then,” she said before the final weekend of the Games.”
After all that, Hannah finally made it back home to New England and to a Yale hockey game, with one important addition, a gold medal around her neck.
The Olympic champion caused the crowd at the TD Banknorth Sports Arena to put aside the tensions of the rivalry match unfolding in front of them and cheer on a member of America’s record-breaking Olympic team.
“It’s been awesome and I’m just so happy for her,” Denny said. “Seeing how hard she’s worked over the last four years, I’m so proud.”