Upon first inspection, everything looks quite in order in the castle of the reigning kings of college hockey. ECAC title banners from five of the last seven years adorn one end of Boston University's shining palace, Walter Brown Arena. Across the way hang three NCAA title flags (1971, 1972, and 1978) and a banner listing the six Beanpot crowns that the Terriers have claimed in the seventies.
At first, even if you're the "home team" (as Harvard was last night), it's intimidating. Intimidation has long been the trademark of this particular wild pack of dogs from Commonwealth Avenue--B.U. has earned hockey supremacy by being meaner, hungrier, and nastier than everyone else. But last night something was missing.
Sure, the Terriers still showed enough poise in their own end and opportunism in Harvard's to up their record to 5-0 without too much real trouble. But for some reason, there weren't so many Crimson bodies flying to the ice. George Hughes only winced about one third as much as he used to while being physically abused by his archrivals. B.U. coach and "nerve center" Jack Parker didn't even smile for as long as it takes him to light up yet another cigarette.
While admittedly the dour visage is nothing new, Parker was pretty much right on the mark when he discontentedly mumbled after the game that, "This was not a typical Harvard-B.U. game. For the most part, it was a dull, boring game." Aside from an abortive third-period Crimson comeback ignited by hustling freshman defenseman Mitch Olson and the inspired heroics of senior star Gene Purdy (who suffered a broken wrist in the final seconds and won't be able to show off his new Swedish Jofa helmet for at least a few weeks), last night's edition of this once great rivalry lacked the tension and excitement that make it so appealing.
Part of it was the horde of empty seats that robbed the contest of its usual emotional atmosphere. Those rowdy B.U. undergrads, unable to secure free admission since the Crimson was the home team, didn't turn out to deliver their obstrusive commentary of the character of Harvard University. Only a brief outburst of "C'mon, rip his eyes out," by one Crimson fan brought back memories of the good old days.
But beyond that, it was a sloppy game. Neither team played particularly well except for a brief stretch of nostalgia producing wide-open hockey in the middle of the third period. For the high-strung Parker and his talented group of pucksters, such mediocrity is unacceptable--undefeated season or not.
"If Harvard gets any goaltending they'd beat us easily," Parker moaned, in apparent reference to the second period, when B.U. amassed five goals on only eight shots to build a lead that proved to be imsurmountable. In fairness to harassed Crimson netminder Wade Lau, it should be noted that despite several lapses by the defense in the third period, he came up with a host of brilliant saves to shut out the Terriers in that stanza and keep Harvard's rally alive.
Parker was really referring to the fact that his defending champions have been flat, not only last night, but also in last week's narrow victories over Providence and Dartmouth (the latter required a frenzied third-period comeback to achieve). To those who wonder how a coach with an undefeated squad can be so concerned, Parker says simply, "They don't know a thing about hockey."
That, my friends, is the secret of the success of the nation's winningest hockey coach. B.U. captain Jack O'Callahan summed up the essence of Terrier hockey after last night's tilt: "Winning like this isn't good enough." The first-team All-American defenseman explained, "We've gotta push for perfection. That's what makes this program what it is. That's what makes Jack Parker such a great coach."