I didn't know the guy and couldn't even see him, but I had no problem hearing the slightly delirious, slightly drunk UNH fan as our packed piece of the Green Line weaved its way from North Station to Park Street last Saturday night.
"How come you guys didn't have a hand?" a disgruntled Boston University fan was asking him, a tinge of jealousy creeping into his voice.
"We don't need a band," the man replied, careful not to slur the words, "we've got a hockey team." No one could argue with that.
The University of New Hampshire Wildcats had just grabbed the 18th Annual ECAC college hockey tournament, their first championship in ten tries at post-season play; now their fans could savor total triumph, while the rest of us just let linger the memory of an intense night of hockey at the Garden.
Both Friday and Saturday had produced surprises. After UNH outlasted Cornell, 5-2, in the first semi-final game, Dartmouth shocked the Terriers and their oddly unenthusiastic supporters, 5-3.
It had not been surprising when Dartmouth jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead in the first period. B.U. had played relatively cruddy hockey for the past month. It was less surprising when the national champions came back to tie the game, 3-3, in the second. The Terriers had a habit of winning the games they needed.
Dominating play as period two came to a close (in fact, a Terrier slapshot hit both posts just before the buzzer), B.U. appeared to have regained total control, their time-worn strategy of overcoming deficits with calm, positional play an ostensible success.
Here comes a B.U.-UNH final, everyone figured, best vs. second best--a PR man's dream. No such luck.
It ended up 5-3. B.U. had the chances, but either couldn't finish them or Bob Gaudet stopped them. The B.U. seniors seemed pretty dejected as their college hockey careers effectively ended, but it was a freshman, Bill Whelton, who showed the most frustration. Just before heading to the dressing room, he gracefully raised his stick and then splintered it on the ice. This time, unlike last year's debacle, there would be no last-minute reprieve and no trip to the NCAAs. This year, Dartmouth and UNH were on their way.
Oh yeah, UNH. Get to them in a minute. First, a B.U. epilogue. Consolation game against Cornell, meaningless except to Ithacans. (Every B.U. game is a big game--for the other team.) Many of the Commonwealth Ave. fans don't even show up for this one--and the team doesn't do much better.
"Those guys are so out of it," says a fan.
Mark Fidler puts in a shot for B.U.'s first goal. He skates back to the bench with no visible trace of excitement.
The game is Cornell's 7-4, with 3:44 to play when Terrier rightwinger Dave Silk gets into a skirmish with one of the Big Red and loses his cool. After some shoving, Silk throws his helmet at Cornell's Geoff Roeszler and gets and extra minor for roughing.
For the rest of the game, Silk sits face down in the penalty box, looking up exactly once to check his surroundings. Presumably, he is tired, angry, disappointed--and embarrassed. When the contest finally ends, Silk foregoes the handshaking ceremonies and skates directly to the lockers. Get me out of here, his face says.
Time for the finals. This one was close, real close. Conventional wisdom made UNH a slight favorite, but no one knew what to expect from psyched-up Dartmouth, which had never won a play-off game before this year.
A quick goal gave Dartmouth a 1-0 lead, but more importantly, solid backchecking and clutch defense kept the slightly nervous (at first) Gaudet from being too severely tested. Everything hung together for the Big Green until 8:32 of the second, when a miserably-timed line and defense change gave UNH a three-on-zero break and a tie game. The Wildcats needed only 37 seconds to go out in front, but Dartmouth fought back until Steve Higgins made the match, as Bud Collins would say, "dead even" with less than 14 minutes left in regulation.
As the clock ticked down, overtime went from a possibility to a likelihood. Let's see, we think, when was the last time the ECAC championship game went into overtime...? (sound of flipping through program)...not since 1963, when--no, it's not a typo--Harvard nipped Boston College, 4-3. So, We're up for it: one moment to settle everything.
Four minutes left, then three, then...
The UNH fan pressed buttons on his portable tape-recorder and said, to no one in particular, "one second...ok here it is." Conversation stopped as a crackly sound filled the subway car: "Less than three minutes to play...Surdam at center ice...up to Ground ... HESHOOTSHESCORES!!! Bob Gould puts UNH in the lead with 2:43 to go!" There were cheers on the Green Line from the UNH fans. Everyone else had to smile with them.