BOSTON — In the midst of the biggest hockey game of his life, Kevin Rooney looked up and saw his uncle Steve.
Yep, right in the middle of Providence’s first national semifinal game in 30 years Thursday night, while Rooney was trying to help the Friars defeat Omaha, there was Uncle Steve Rooney showing up on the Garden HDX video scoreboard at TD Garden.
“I looked up and he’s getting interviewed on the jumbotron,” Kevin Rooney said. “I’m like, ‘Oh, God, I can’t look at that.’ ”
By the end of the night, Kevin and Uncle Steve — along with a large Rooney clan located around the Boston area — were celebrating Providence’s first berth in the national championship game since 1985. Rooney, a junior forward who also plays on the Friars’ penalty-kill unit, assisted on a goal in the final minute of Providence’s 4-1 win against Omaha in the Frozen Four.
What makes Saturday night’s championship game even more memorable for Kevin Rooney is that Steve Rooney played on the 1985 Providence team that lost the national title game to RPI by one goal.
You can imagine how many times the 1985 team has come up at family get-togethers.
“It’s so special. I can’t even wrap my head around it,” Kevin Rooney said. “I obviously wasn’t even born. We’ve seen all the clips from the 1985 team. … It’s pretty crazy to go back and watch that.”
After Providence defeated Denver 4-1 in the East Regional final, and the team got a few days off during Easter weekend in the days prior to the Frozen Four, Kevin and Uncle Steve and the rest of the family got together near Boston. Conversations about that 1985 team and 2015 were quick to start.
“It was very special to talk to him there,” Kevin Rooney said. “He told me how it was when he was there. It made me feel confident going into this weekend.”
The Rooneys and Providence just go together.
In addition to Kevin, who scored seven goals this season including one in a game against Frozen Four semifinalist North Dakota, and Steve, who played five years in the NHL for the Montreal Canadiens, Chris Rooney was a senior on Providence’s team in 2012-13 when Kevin was a freshman. Chris, Steve’s son, is Kevin’s cousin. And, yes, he was at TD Garden on Thursday.
“Oh, yeah, I don’t think anyone missed it,” Kevin Rooney said. “If they did, they were watching at home. It was good to have them here.”
When Thursday’s game ended, Rooney and the rest of the team jumped off the bench and raced toward goaltender Jon Gillies in celebration. The historic moment is not lost on this team, and especially Rooney.
“I think it’s pretty special for everyone in our community,” said Gillies, who had the best best goals-against average in Hockey East.
“None of us were even born [in 1985],” said team captain Ross Mauermann, a senior forward who has played in a school-record 155 consecutive games.
“I didn’t really know much about the program coming in. I think it’s more neat for the fan base and the people that have waited this long for us to get on this stage again and do well obviously tonight.
“It’s just so exciting to get the energy back in our program. Moving forward, I think it will be huge.”
Providence (25-13-2) blasted Omaha (20-13-6) on the offensive end. The Friars peppered Omaha goalie Ryan Massa with 48 shots, finally going ahead for good with Noel Acciari’s goal 11:02 into the second period. After Omaha cut a two-goal deficit to 2-1 in the third period, Providence iced the win with goals by Trevor Mingola and Nick Saracino’s goal assisted by Rooney.
“I was really pleased with our mental toughness because we could have gotten frustrated,” said coach Nate Leaman.
And now the Friars get to talk about a national championship game for the first time in 30 years.
“I don’t think it’s hit me yet,” Kevin Rooney said. “Maybe it’ll hit me Saturday when we get out there for the game.”
One thing is for sure: He’ll be able to look up into the stands and see Uncle Steve.
“It’s pretty neat, I think, for him, especially to have the family ties and live up to his uncle,” Mauermann said. “He‘s got a pretty good history in Friartown. It‘s fun having him around and the tradition the Rooneys have here, and he can carry that on for his family.”