Just to clarify, I’m not much of a sports fan. Following the Washington Senators as a kid cured me of that.
I’m with Robin in Annie Hall, when she asks Woody Allen, “Alvy, what is so fascinating about a group of pituitary cases trying to stuff the ball through a hoop?” Or move a pigskin across a chalk line, I’d add. George Will said it: “Football combines the two worst things about America: it is violence punctuated by committee meetings.”
But then there’s Colby ice hockey, which I’ve followed off and on for 48 years, men’s teams and women’s, through thick and quite a lot of thin.
Since the fall of 1970, from blue line seats in Colby’s Alfond Rink, I’ve relished speed possible only on ice combined with the athletic grace of a perfect pass just a millisecond before a jarring check. The energy and excitement of the opening minutes of any Colby-Bowdoin hockey game are hard to top.
In the early 1970s, there wasn’t even plexiglass to protect refs from rabid Mules fans. “WHAT!” my freshman-year roommate screamed directly into an official’s ear through the old chicken wire. “YOUR SEEING-EYE DOG DOESN’T SKATE?!”
In the late-’90s, when Colby had its last big tournament bid and lost its series at Middlebury, coach Jim Tortorella invited my youth-hockey-player son (a big fan of Todd McGovern ’97) onto the bus for a teachable moment with his players. So when Colby’s men’s team made it to the Frozen Four national D-III championships in March, I barely hesitated before deciding to make the 300-plus mile drive from central Maine to Lake Placid.
After the long and winding ride through the Adirondack Mountains, I wasn’t prepared for Lake Placid’s combination of reverence and hype for hockey, particularly in the Olympic rink now named for the coach of the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” U.S. Olympic team. One current player called Herb Brooks Arena “the cathedral” of American hockey. When I saw a sign for stop number seven on some audio tour of the premises I thought, “Huh. Stations of the Cross?”
I also wasn’t prepared for the size and speed of players from perennial powerhouse Wisconsin schools in the final four. All 10 first-years on St. Norbert (Colby’s semifinal opponent) had played junior hockey, and none of these freshmen was younger than 21. Every single Wisconsin-Stevens Point player had played junior hockey before enrolling.
As a man who has long considered hair to be overrated, I found it nice—in some ways—to see BMOCs with receding hairlines.
I was also surprised by the number of Colby hats and familiar faces in the parking lots, restaurants, and stands. Colby fans won the spirit competition hands down.
And the game? Well, the taller, heavier, faster, older St. Norbert Green Knights had their hands full with our Mules. After some understandable jitters that put them in a two-goal hole after the first three minutes, Colby skaters proved they deserved the national spotlight and made their College and alumni proud. They could have buckled, but in the ensuing 57 minutes, at least, the Mules outscored the now five-time national champions, three goals to two, despite facing three first-team All Americans.
They made it well worth the trip.
In 1970 Stephen Collins arrived at Colby from Virginia with figure skates he hoped to grow into. He went home for Thanksgiving that year with a black eye inflicted by a puck in Alfond Rink. He was indulged and tolerated by other staff, faculty, and community skaters in Colby’s NHL (Noontime Hockey League) for a number of years while he worked in Colby’s Office of Communications.