By Jess Clay
Each winter, the ice hockey teams of Harvard, Boston College, Boston University, and Northeastern face off in the Beanpot Tournament. This year, the Indy takes to the ice.
At the Park Street T-stop, I switched from the Red Line to the Green Line, bound for North Station and the TD Garden above it. The Green Line is really more trolleys than trains, slow-rolling pairs of cars harnessed to the electrical wires above them, and as I climbed into the back seats of the second car I overheard two old-timers talking about the Beanpot. One of them wore a green ski coat and a Red Sox hat, and the other was clad in a Boston College ball cap and maroon fleece with an old gold collar. The first man was talking about how, of the four Beanpot schools, Harvard was the only one without a stop on the Green Line. His friend noted that those same three schools played in a hockey league together, while Harvard was in a league of its own. “You can salvage a whole season if you win the Beanpot,” the man in the Sox hat said. The BC guy nodded, before adding, “Well, they don’t want to lose to the kids down the street.”
It was at that moment that I first gained a sense of exactly how the first game of the 2016 Beanpot was going to go. For the rest of the train ride, the two men talked about Beanpots past, and particularly about the mythical Beanpot during the Blizzard of ’78. One of them spoke of how you could walk through the North End that winter and hear nothing but the sound of icicles falling from tall buildings.
By the time I made my way up to the press box of the Garden, the stands below were still largely empty. Down on the ice, the referees glided around in their striped shirts while the Boston College mascot slid gracelessly on flat-bottomed mascot shoes. The mascot was an anthropomorphic eagle clad in a BC hockey jersey, and over the course of the game he would take poor shots from center ice and yuk it up with the crowd in the sixteenth row, and on such occasions I could not decide if I was proud or disappointed that Harvard had no mascot of its own.
Ten minutes before game time, the BC kids started pouring into the upper deck, with an eventual number of perhaps a thousand undergraduates packed together in their student section. Harvard, for its part, had no discernible student section with the exception of the band. Three minutes after five o’clock, both hockey teams took to the ice for final warmups and introductions which were indicative of the night ahead. Every time the public address announcer named a Harvard starter, the BC kids followed it with a synchronized “SUCKS!” Harvard, it seemed, had brought tubas to a gunfight.
In fact, the entire arena seemed united against the Crimson. When the announcer made the Boston College introductions, he did so with a lusty zeal that made him sound like the kind of guy who moonlights as a host of child beauty pageants. We even learned that the middle-aged singer of the national anthem was the proud mother of two Boston College kids. Ninety seconds after the puck dropped to open the game, BC fired and missed three shots on the goal, as the Harvard goalie hunkered against the goal frame like a doughboy in a machine gun nest. On their fourth attempt, BC scored on a slapshot to take a 1-0 lead and send the Eagle faithful into a frenzy. With one equal temper, they jeered the Harvard goalkeeper.
“YOU SUCK AT LIFE – AND GOALTENDING! IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT! IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT! IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT!” They would repeat this chant three times over the course of the game, along with a host of other well-practiced, well-aimed taunts. The taunts were not particularly original – a fact best manifested by the ubiquitous “HARVARD SUCKS!” – but they were undoubtedly genuine, and they demonstrated amply what happens when a rival college campus has been declared a safe space.
Midway through the first period, Donato of Harvard beat out two Eagle defensemen in a long skate-race down the rink, corralled the puck, and flicked it past the goal line to tie the score at one apiece. The Harvard band struck up “10,000 Men of Harvard” shortly after the goal, and several moments later the BC kids began chanting “WE CAN’T HEAR YOU!” Perhaps this was a painfully late response to the band, because there was certainly no exhortation from the Harvard crowd audible enough to elicit such any rebuttal. Perhaps the BC faithful were merely vocal observers of an easily discernible fact. I really couldn’t say.
Five minutes later, Harvard scored again to take their only lead of the night. The goal was shrouded in controversy, as Harvard’s Vesey momentarily slid into the goal crease shortly before his teammate Baughman sent the puck came flying toward the net. A BC defenseman grabbed Vesey by the head and shoulders, and Vesey hopped up and out just as the puck struck home. You could see the shot on loop in the TV screens of the press box, but the Jumbotron remained conspicuously devoid of any replay. I suspect this was a well-founded policy on the part of the TD Garden, because the BC crowd booed mercilessly at even the most benign Jumbotron screenings. The finest of these came late in the first period, when the camera panned to a small girl eating a comically large piece of pizza. She was not even old enough to blaspheme Santa Claus, but she was wearing a Northeastern sweatshirt, and she was shouted down accordingly by the BC student section.
As the game entered the second period, BC tied it up and and then took the lead on a pair of power plays. With sixteen minutes to go in the third period, in some lonely corner of the Garden, some poor sap suddenly initiated a “Let’s Go Harvard!” chant, and it was just as suddenly quashed by a barrage of “LET’S GO EAGLES!”
I would be remiss not to mention my envy of Boston College at such moments. Before us was a matchup of two of the top ten teams in all of college hockey, separated by only three spots in the national rankings. BU was in the top ten as well, and later that evening they would face off against Northeastern, winners of six straight. It was as fine a Beanpot as any Bostonian could hope for, and the students from the south side of the melted Charles indicated as much. Yet on a Monday night in early February, it did not draw much from the Cambridge crowd. I heard rumors that the Murr Center had sold out of student tickets earlier in the day, but either there were precious few student tickets sold or there were precious few students who deigned to use their tickets. Maybe it was because it was the start of the new semester, or maybe it was because the behemoth of a class known as “Road to the White House” offers its lectures from seven to nine on Monday evenings, but whatever the reason it was profoundly disappointing.
As the clock wound down to zero, and Harvard lost the game amidst a shattered stick and empty net, the BC bench stormed the ice as the Crimson players bent over at their waists, leaning on their downcast sticks as though they were the lap bars of a roller coaster. I took the Green Line back to Park Street, and then the Red Line on back to Harvard Square. This time around, I overheard no one talking about the Beanpot, and I was sorry for it.
Jess Clay ’17 (firstname.lastname@example.org) will fight Beanpot rivals until hell freezes over, then fight them on the ice.