For much of his life, Dannel Malloy has been an avid fan of hockey and rugby.
    Both rough-and-tumble sports are highly physical and require quick movements, sharp elbows and fast decisions. A rugby player for 22 years, Malloy finally quit when his wife said it was taking too much time, but he hasn't left sports completely behind.
    "He's got a hockey mentality," said state Rep. Stephen Dargan, a friend of Connecticut's first Democratic governor in two decades. "Hockey is a speed game. He's trying to accomplish a lot of things in the first year. He's not afraid to go into the boards with somebody. He's not afraid to move the puck out of the corner with someone who has dissenting views."
    "Some people might not have liked the way he's done things, but what you see is what you get," Dargan said. "He's not afraid to mix it up."
    Malloy has played his first year with speed and aggression, usually working seven days a week. He set the pace early in his term and kept it up, criss-crossing the state for 17 town hall meetings to hear citizen comments about his budget, while maintaining an ambitious public appearance schedule. In recent months, it's been more relentless, with trips to Kuwait, Afghanistan, Beverly Hills and Switzerland in a schedule not unlike the final weeks of a campaign.
    In addition to his official duties, Malloy serves as the finance chairman of the Democratic Governors Association -- raising money for governors seeking re-election this year. That level of commitment has prompted insiders to theorize that he's angling to be chairman of the association just as John G. Rowland was chairman of the Republican group at the height of his career as governor.
    Malloy, 56, has traveled more than any Connecticut governor in recent history -- prompting calls from Republicans who say it's time to stay home to get the state's fiscal house in order.
    When asked how many days he took for vacation during his first year, Malloy thought for a moment.
    "It would be easier for me to figure out the days that I didn't work. I think I took four [days] in September," Malloy said. "I work this way all the time. And when I'm not working, I'm working because I'm reading. I'm getting articles. If I'm not in the office, it doesn't mean I'm not working. I'm in the car, going to something, and I'm reading an article or I'm having a conversation."
    As the 2012 legislative session opens Wednesday, Malloy is barreling ahead, ready to expand his agenda with plans to reform public education, increase affordable housing and allow the sale of alcohol on Sundays at supermarkets and package stores.
    Supporters say 2011 was an unbridled success that included balancing the state budget and pulling Connecticut out of a deep deficit that Malloy calls the financial abyss. In addition to being the most pro-union governor in more than 20 years, Malloy enacted a series of initiatives that had been bottled up for years by Republican governors. He successfully pushed for an earned income tax credit for the working poor, protected transgender rights, and enacted two controversial executive orders that made it easier for workers to join unions. Other initiatives included allowing the children of illegal immigrants in Connecticut's public colleges to pay the same in-state tuition rates as longtime residents and decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana.
    The supremely confident Malloy trumpets the achievements of his administration as governor of a state with more than 50,000 employees and an annual budget of $20 billion
    "I think Connecticut is a far better place this January than it was a January ago," Malloy said in an interview with The Courant's editorial board. "We did grow 9,000 jobs last year -- the first year we've grown jobs on a year-to-year basis since 2008."
    But to Republicans and political opponents, Malloy's inaugural year was a failure marked by the largest tax increase in state history and a well-publicized downgrade in the state's bond rating. That was compounded, they say, by an increase in influence for unions and paid sick days for service companies. Paid sick days were blasted by business lobbyists as a job-killing, anti-business move. Republicans charge that the state's finances are still unsteady, marked by inflated estimates of givebacks from the state employee concessions and purported pension savings that the legislature's nonpartisan fiscal office said were wrong by $3.1 billion over 20 years.
    Republicans also complain that Malloy blames everyone but himself for the state's problems, noting his criticisms of former governors, the nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis, and the independent Moody's Investors Service, which downgraded the state's bonds. He was the first governor who insiders could remember criticizing a respected Wall Street ratings agency, Moody's, which scrutinizes the financial nuts and bolts of balance sheets worldwide and carefully avoids any political agenda. He has pledged to get back the higher bond rating.
    "Moody's comes out -- they're wrong," said House Republican leader Larry Cafero of Norwalk. "Then OFA comes out on the deficit -- they're wrong. Everybody's wrong. ... He's intolerant of anyone who disagrees with him. He doesn't have much patience for alternative positions, and sometimes that comes across to people as arrogant or condescending."
    With Democratic majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, Malloy was able to push through most of his agenda, gaining largely what he wanted on tax increases and spending priorities. Under Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell, the Capitol had been so gridlocked that the state budget took effect without her signature because she refused to accept the entire package passed by the Democratic-controlled legislature.
    In the past year, Republicans and Malloy agreed on little other than a bipartisan jobs bill, and the disagreements included Malloy's recruiting Maine-based Jackson Laboratory to create 300 bioscience jobs at the University of Connecticut Health Center campus in Farmington. Malloy's supporters say it will attract highly paid scientists and generate thousands of spinoff jobs by creating a research triangle stretching from Farmington to Yale University in New Haven and the UConn main campus in Storrs. Republicans see the Jackson deal as a major giveaway to a nonprofit company on risky science that guarantees only 300 jobs for a state investment of nearly $1 million per job. State Sen. Len Suzio, R-Meriden, described it as "a $291 million bribe, plus interest."