Rock Steady

I'm just pucking around this morning, with a few random hockey thoughts to digest with your Wheaties:

Harvard is guaranteed at least a share of the Ivy League hockey title. Think about that for a moment. The last time Harvard copped the coveted crown, most of you (myself included) were barely teeny boppers. And to think that it has been going to waste in icy Ithaca for the past nine years, with nary a challenger to the Big Red to make the race at all interesting.

The only obstacle standing in the way of the Crimson icemen is Yale tonight in Watson Rink. But after bombing in New Haven last Saturday, you don't really think the Crimson icemen are going to be taking this one lightly, do you? Watch out, Kenny McKenzie.

There's more at stake tonight for Harvard than there usually is when the two teams meet at the end of the season. For the past decade or so the Harvard-Yale hockey game has had about as much significance as a mid-season battle between the Bruins and the Golden Seals. Ho hum. The mere rivalry between the two schools alone used to be enough to have the game scheduled in that mecca of schoolboy hockey, the Boston Arena. But even that has begun to fizzle, and last year the game was rescheduled for the cozy confines of Watson Rink.

As a budding hockey fan, I used to take in the classic confrontation between the Ivy rivals in the ancient Arena. It was always a rout for the good guys. Probably the only thing Yale came away with was a few cases of rat bite from the Arena locker rooms.

Which brings me to the Arena. But not often. I had a chance to revisit that fabulous ice palace on February 20 to watch Northeastern and Harvard duel in what was a real snoozer for the first two periods.

The only thing that kept me awake in the opening stanza was the water that was dripping on me (and others) from the empty balcony overhead. And it wasn't even raining outside at the time. Really.

To keep things in perspective for those of you lucky enough to have avoided the Arena, the Boston Garden was built to replace the Arena. Yes it's that old. And that decrepit. And Northeastern gets to play its home games there. Lucky dogs. The seats are so uncomfortable that I couldn't sit down again for an hour following the contest without feeling their after-effects. And you thought Watson Rink was bad.

At least at the Arena you can see the game, which is a lot more than you can say for Dartmouth's Davis Rink. Whoever designed the covering for that ice surface obviously had never watched a hockey game before.

For one, there is no plexiglass mounted around the top of the boards. Instead, the fans are protected by chain link fence, which is nearly impossible to see through. Before the game I felt like I was at the zoo, waiting for the polar bears to come out and perform. After watching the Dartmouth fans, I think I was at the zoo.

The seats are no more than wooden steps (three or four) which come up no higher than the top of that damn fence. Well, the alternative to sitting behind the fence is (you guessed it) standing. Lotsa luck. The beams supporting the roof arch up out of the top step at such an angle that it obscures half of the rink for anyone standing on the top two steps.

But the Dartmouth fans don't seem to mind. After all, there isn't much else to do on a Wednesday night in Hanover. It's like one big Section 18 up there in Davis, only really bush-league. The fans booed the Crimson icemen loudly at every opportunity. Even the listeners of the game over WHRB radio could hear the 2000 or so joining together for such inspirational stuff as "Harvard sucks" and other chants I won't mention because my mother reads all my articles.

It took four third-period Crimson goals to shut the chanters up. That's when the small but enthusiastic Harvard section took over--"We can't hear you, Dartmouth." Thank God.

It's always good to get out of that snakepit with a win. In fact it's always good to get out of that snakepit--as fast as possible. It's a dull ride back to Cambridge, but a stop at Salem's "Atomic Subs" (McDonalds was closed) can spice things up. And I do mean "spice."

And speaking of gourmet treats, about the only saving grace of the Arena, so I'm told, are its french fries. (A tip from the connoisseurs: eat the ones that have cooled in the boxes a while and not the ones right out of the frier.) I was psyched for trying some at the Northeastern game, especially after spending a torturous second period (I moved out from under Arean Falls) in front of a pair of screaming teenettes that nearly caused me to go deaf in my right ear.

But the concession stand stopped selling the tasty taters after the first intermission. Well, maybe next year. But don't count on it. It's too bad the Harvard-Yale tilt isn't in the Arena this year. On second thought, I take that back. I'd rather see the Ivy League crown won right here in Watson Rink.

Which brings us back to where we started. (How are those Wheaties?)