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Hockey Insider Commentary: College hockey crowds without equal

Kyle Cassily | Friday, November 10, 2006

There’s just something about a college hockey game that can’t be replicated anywhere in sport.

It’s the student sections, bands, chants and traditions that all blend together within the walls of some venerable old barn on campus. It’s how all that noise crescendos into a fervor that is so thick around the rink that the concrete rumbles like a 6.2 on the Richter scale, and the walls sway under the pressure.

It is almost impossible to describe unless witnessed, but it happens every weekend at rinks across New England, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and beyond – just not here, not at Notre Dame, not yet.

In the winter of 1993, mortal rivals Maine and New Hampshire played a hyped league game – it was the year college hockey, and now NHL, great Paul Kariya led his Black Bears to a title – at UNH’s now-extinct Snively Arena.

The Snively was a rectangular box with an arched tin roof, riveted metal walls and rotting wooden bleachers lit by dim low-lying lamps. In short it was a dump, but a Mecca for college hockey.

From the drop of the puck to the final buzzer, the crowd fed off the hell-bent energy of the teams’ play. A friend turned toward me at one point, attempting to say something, and from the red, strained faces he made, he was trying hard. Not a word made it across the foot separating us – and the game was in a timeout.

And, unbeknownst to northern Indiana, that kind of energy at a hockey game is far from rare at many games today.

But college hockey is about more than just the noise – it’s about the traditions, cheers and chants that make the fans a factor in the game in a way that rivals Texas A&M’s 12th Man.

After the first New Hampshire goal of every home game, it is tradition for a bunch of UNH frat boys, or whoever gets there first, to throw a large fish onto the ice.

The origin of the tradition is disputed. One source says that it came from the 1970s when the Division-I Wildcats played Division-II Bowdoin from across the border in Maine. A tiny guppy called the ‘Division-II fish’ would be thrown on the ice to show disapproval toward the program that had once dominated the Wildcats.

But the man who has scraped the fish off the ice every night for years says that it is the fans telling the opposing goalie to fish the puck out of his net. It may be both, but either way it’s an original – albeit smelly – and legendary college hockey tradition.

At Cornell, the student section holds the campus newspaper in front of its face while the announcer introduces the other team’s roster. The students then crumple the papers up and toss them on the ice when the last opposing coach is announced.

Cornell’s student body has rocked its home at Lynah Rink for decades with witty, funny and delightfully nasty cheers. But the constant with the Big Red faithful has always been its creativity and energy.

During every singing of The Star Spangled Banner, the student body will scream out “RED” in unison when the song reaches the ‘rockets red glare’ stanza. Against Colgate, they will point to the Raiders’ goalie after he allows a goal and yell, ‘Toothpaste’ then point to their own side and yell, ‘Goalie’, going back and forth and getting faster and faster till the crowd is a mass of exploding arms.

“Sieve” can be heard at nearly all college games – a reference towards the grated plate that miners used to sift through dirt to find gold – but some schools have found unique ways to tell the other team’s goalie that he couldn’t stop a kickball.

In Madison, the crowd quiets and a solitary Wisconsin drummer beats out a rhythm after the Badgers goal celebration is finished and the teams line up for the faceoff. Everyone moves their hands in the air in slow circles and at the same time screams, ‘SIEVE’.

The drummer resumes his beat and a second yell goes up before he resumes again. And the third time, the 14,000 plus in attendance at the Kohl Center explode into a string of sieves that rain down upon the opposing goaltender. Only a goaltender with steel nerves could withstand that assault fully intact – talk about home-rink advantage.

The Badgers home crowd also jumps up and down continuously through power plays, while the drumline blasts a constant beat – it is arguably one of the best college hockey crowds.

And believe it or not, it seems that Notre Dame students aren’t the only ones to loathe the Backup College. Boston University students will scream obscenities about Fredo – when they are playing Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

There are countless examples across the country of passionate student sections, bands and traditions. It would take a catalogue to list them all, but there would be only a brief blurb if one was to thumb to the ‘Notre Dame’ tab.

It’s time for the Irish hockey crowd to pump up and match the energy and attitude the team has shown on the ice so far this season, and that it will continue to exhibit as the program grows toward national prominence.

It’s time for Irish hockey fans to create their own traditions and chants that are for hockey and hockey alone. Football cheers are great in Notre Dame Stadium, but they are awkward and out of place in the Joyce Center rink – they don’t fit the college hockey atmosphere. The T-shirts that appear all over campus making fun of that week’s football opponent are testament enough to the Notre Dame student’s ability to creatively deconstruct the enemy.

There are a dedicated few in Section 6 that would love the chance to lead an insane student body at the games, and the band already lays down the bass line for a solid crowd.

A Snively, Lynah Rink or Kohl Center can be created here at Notre Dame – hell we can do better. It’s just going to take a little creativity and some Irish touch.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Kyle Cassily at kcassily@nd.edu