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“It puts our program on a bigger stage,” UConn men’s coach Bruce Marshall said. “Not many kids get to play outdoors in college, so it’s a tremendous opportunity for us.”

Baldwin said working with UConn could also pay dividends in the future. There has long been talk of building a new arena in Hartford that could meet NHL standards and serve as a new home court for the UConn basketball teams.

“The more people are working together the better it is,” he said, “and it bodes well for anything you are trying to do here in Hartford.”

Bob Pilney, co-president of the Eastern Connecticut Hockey Organization, a youth hockey program in Bolton, says his organization spent about $10,000 to purchase four hours of ice time so the 150 kids on their travel teams and 100 kids in their learn-to-skate program can play at the outdoor rink.

“We are starting to see an uptick in the number of kids playing hockey,” Pilney said. “And to have someone like Howard putting time and effort into the grass-roots effort, these kids will be Whale fans for the rest of their lives.”

Baldwin, who moved the World Hockey League’s New England Whalers to Hartford in 1975 and brought the team into the NHL in 1979, would like to see the festival become an annual event.

And if it helps attract the NHL back to Hartford, well that’s a good thing, too.

“We want this to be the go-to hockey event in New England every year,” Baldwin said. “I think it puts Hartford on the map again as a great hockey market. In the ‘70s, ‘80s and early ‘90s, we were there. And then it faded.”

Perhaps it’s on its way back.