Crowds Pack It In, Pack It Up at Bright
Blaese of Glory
When the entire Crimson team circled around the center-ice Veritas symbol at Bright Hockey Center, you knew something special had happened.
Air horns and homemade noise makers were heard loud and clear from the family and friends section, while some students on the other side of the rink in Section 12 were still chanting "season's over" towards the visiting bench. No matter what the form of celebration, everyone who was left in Bright Hockey Center was smiling.
Then, one stick banged the ice three times and, in unison, all 20 Harvard sticks were raised to the rafters.
It was a beautiful sight.
The Harvard men's hockey team had just beaten Colgate for the second straight night, earning the team a ticket to Lake Placid next weekend. It wasn't just the two wins, since after all Harvard was the higher seed, but rather the way in which the team secured its berth into the next round of the ECAC playoffs.
Friday night, the Crimson fell into a deep 3-0 hole with time running down in the second period. To make matters worse, freshman Chris Bala--the Crimson's leading goal scorer--had just left the rink and been escorted to the Holyoke Center to have X-rays on his hand. It wasn't looking good for the fifth seed.
Storming back in the final 10 minutes of the third period, however, Harvard connected on three straight five-on-three opportunities to pull out a dramatic 5-4 victory.
On Saturday night, the Crimson performed what in many ways was an even more difficult task. It rebounded from the dramatic win the night before and stymied the emotionally charged Red Raiders right from the opening face-off en route to the 4-2 win.
No, it wasn't their best game of the season, but in every aspect, throughout every minute of hockey this weekend, the Harvard players did what they needed to do to win.
It was a beautiful night.
And the best part of the whole experience was that there was a faithful following to watch the festivities.
"It was tremendously special," said captain Jeremiah McCarthy reflecting on the crowd. "When we scored our first goal last night, an air horn went off and all the little shakers too. The people on the bench were like, 'Whoa, that was pretty loud.' It was like the first time ever."
It was the first time ever that any of the Harvard players on the ice won a playoff game at home, and it was the first time this season that the Crimson fans outnumbered the opposition's following.
When the final home-ice spot was decided one week ago, the Harvard players went through two sets of emotions. The initial reaction was one of excitement. Home ice represented a certain domination and a mental edge heading into the most important weekend of the season.
On the other side, however, was the dismal prospect of returning to a barren Bright Hockey Center--a not so unrealistic thought considering the abysmal attendance figures this season.
For some reason, despite the four-dollar ticket prices, fans found their way across the river, and for the first time in a long time, Harvard hockey reverted back to the days when home ice really meant something. Not only were there bodies in the stands, but there were screaming, jeering students who actually made their presence known.
"We were all excited to be at home, but we weren't sure if it was going to be a home advantage at all," said sophomore Scott Turco. "It was just great support this weekend, and hopefully some of them will head up to Lake Placid."
The best way to get fans into the rink is to be successful, and for the first time Harvard hockey did just that. Any fan who was present throughout the two-game series, was witness to exciting, transitional play which was replete with drama. Yet in the end the home team was the last one standing, and the only team at Bright heading towards the Great White North.
The rink was far from full, but then again the team's record was far from .500. A win or two or three in Lake Placid could do wonders, as could a solid 1998-99 season.
If the Crimson is going to take a step towards regaining the respect that it once had during the days when it was challenging for the national championship, then home ice is the place to start.
Last night was indeed a special moment for the Crimson players because for the first time they were able to remain on the ice as the Colgate players marched back to their locker room.
Then, in a solitary motion all the players raised their sticks in salute. It was a message directed at not only themselves for winning the series, but it was a resounding thank you to the friends, families and fans who were there to witness their feat.