On Friday, February 4, the Vermont Catamounts will welcome the New Hampshire Wildcats to Gutterson Fieldhouse in a crucial Hockey East matchup in front of a larger-than-usual crowd.
The two teams currently sit tied for fourth in Hockey East with 19 points in 18 games, but the large crowd won’t be because of the importance of the game. In fact, it’s because of something unrelated to hockey.
The game marks the fourth annual Pack the Gut Challenge, a game which sees UVM try to break the Hockey East record for attendance - and for a good cause.
Pack the Gut was started in 2014 as the idea of then-senior Danielle Rancourt. Rancourt had volunteered with Meals on Wheels during the summer of 2013, and saw an opportunity to help the community and promote the women’s hockey team, which was in the midst of its best season ever and would go to the Hockey East semifinal.
The goal of Pack the Gut was to break the Hockey East record for attendance while raising money for the charity, which home-delivers meals to people in need. Five percent of all merchandise sales, as well as all proceeds from a second period chuck-a-puck contest, were donated to the charity, who was also accepting cash and check donations at the game.
It was quite literally a smashing success, as the first Pack the Gut saw UVM break the record. 2,028 spectators saw the Catamounts lose 6-1 to Boston College on November 8, 2013, beating the previous record of 1,498.
Since then, Pack the Gut has become a staple of the Vermont women’s hockey season.
Pack the Gut II took place on October 24, 2014, against Union. Though they did not break the record they had set the previous season, the crowd of 1,320 stood as the highest all season in Hockey East. After that, UVM athletics made the decision to move the game to the spring semester.
Last season’s Pack the Gut raised over $600 for Meals on Wheels, and saw 1,662 people witness the Catamounts’ 2-1 loss to UConn on January 29, 2016. For comparison, the Catamounts are averaging 220 fans per game in the 2016-17 season.
With UVM on track for its second-best season ever, look for a large crowd to show up for a massive twin-state conference showdown on Friday night for good cause and good hockey.