I have been to the alternate universe. I have examined their dances, their music, and their immensely uncreative hockey cheers. I have been jeered at by students, adults, and senior citizens just on the way to the bathroom. I have found the only Hershey’s Ice Creamstand I have ever seen in Massachusetts, but used intense willpower not to buy an arena priced sundae. Despite all this, I have returned in pretty much one piece (unless you count the nail I broke on the drive home.
I have been to UMass Amherst to watch a hockey game.
For those unaccustomed to the nuances of college hockey, UMass Amherst’s Mullins Center is known as a particularly vitriolic arena to attend a game in if you are not a Minuteman fan. University of New Hampshire’s Whittemore Center can be scary in a “the students are better behaved than the townies in attendance, and maybe we can hang around the concourse long enough to avoid any of them on the long, cold hike to the parking lot” kind of way. However, for the past three years, I had been told stories of the Mullins Center, and how UMass students would torture, stalk, and threaten the opposing team’s fans if they dared step foot in the place.
Understandably, I was weary when a few of us decided that this would be the year we made the two hour trek out to Amherst to attend the Boston University-UMass game on March 1. Would we get beat up by UMass students five, six and seven years younger than us unprovoked? Should we not wear any apparel that would identify us as fans of Boston University? Would I need to use the buddy system if I ever wanted to leave my seat?
The truth is…it’s bad. But due to all the gloom and doom I’ve heard for years, I was prepared. It didn’t strike me as horrendous, but mostly because I was ready for it. What was particularly bad (besides the play of both teams) was…the weirdness of it all. I left convinced that UMass Amherst is an alternate universe. Why did I decide this?
1) UMass Amherst has no band.
The pep band is a crucial part of the culture of college sports. They set the tone for the fans, they keep the fans in the game if the home team is floundering – they lead the cheers more than any cheerleaders ever could. Umass Amherst does not have one. Or if they do, they weren’t there. College hockey is especially known for the spirit and enthusiasm of their pep bands, and to watch a game without a live band just threw me off.
2) The Mullins Center needs new CDs.
Well, I now know who my parents sold all my old Jock James CDs to – the Mullins Center! Instead of a pep band, we were rockin’ out all evening to the best of mid-90s techno-pop. The few exceptions included your always needed Bon Jovi interlude, a super random Daughtry song, and…
3) There was an amazingly amusing German or French techno song complete with hand waving. (And this was after I made a fool of myself.)
I don’t know when this exactly occurred, but it had to be at some point in the late second period, second intermission, or beginning of the third. When your beloved team is cruising to losing their first game in a month because of the worst officiating in any level of hockey ever (even worse than those times that all the refs in a youth hockey game are fathers of the opposing team’s players), time tends to blend all together. Really, all I know for sure is that this amusing foreign techno song played after I was the only one in my section that stood up and argued a penalty against my favorite player (otherwise known as the Forward Who Shall Not Be Named or FWSNBN). Prior to that, every fan – regardless of team – was arguing penalties because the officiating was really gosh awful. I was in the meager-in-number “grown up BU fans” section (as opposed to where the bus loads of Boston U. students were sitting) and therefore, everyone could hear everyone else. We could all clearly hear our grumbles, arguments and yelling about the unjust penalty calls. I usually refrain from arguing calls – why waste my energy because I know the refs aren’t paying attention to little ol’ me, you know? But then the FWSNBN received a slashing call, and I decide that this time, I’m going to argue. Except no one joined me. It ended up being me standing up, yelling, “Oh, come on, ref! He doesn’t slash!” and then meekly looking around when I realized no one else was yelling with me. They were instead staring at me. Even Pin Lady, a revered legend among Boston University hockey fans, was staring at me! Even the player’s parents, sitting in the section next to us, didn’t argue the call. I turned bright red, shrugged and offered to the four rows of us fans, “Sorry – it’s just a… bad… call?” and sat down.
Anyway, after that embarrassing incident, the next amusing part was when some French or German techno song began playing, and the UMass fans began waving their hands like European soccer fans. Some began singing along. I just stared at the student section in wide eyed confusion. Was it German? Was it French? What the heck was it? How are they so carefully choreographed? How more weird and crazy can this get?
4) They’re a little bit country, we’re a little bit…not.
I should have sniffed that something was up when the National Anthem was performed with a country twang more suitable for a NASCAR race than a college hockey game in civilized Massachusetts. Then came the first intermission. After a children’s synchronized skating team took the ice, we were presented with a Meet the Minuteman video segment, where UMass players were asked what was on their iPods.
The first player answered, “Kenny Chesney, uh, and some Kayne West, and classic rock.”
The second player answered, “Uh, Kenny Chesney, 50 Cent, some Snoop Dogg.”
The third player answered, “A lot of country.”
The fourth player answered, “Kenny Chesney, Brad Paisley, and a lot of country.”
And it kept going, with only one player not mentioning country music.
Kenny Chesney. The same cowboy hat wearing guy who married Renee Zwelleger? The wanna-be Jimmy Buffett? The same guy who sings “sweet country pop,” whose songs I can’t distinguish from those of Rascal Flatts? Hockey players listen to him? Hockey players listen to him and readily admit it? They all decide to start off their lists with him? Are they adding 50 Cent and Kayne after to appear cooler? Is the Kenny Chesney thing simply just to get the girls? Because I grew up with a hockey player as a cousin, and I think he wouldn’t be caught listening to Kenny Chesney even if you paid him and/or gave him beer. Are they telling the team to say country artists because their clientale is obviously drawn to it (which I have a total problem with, because really, Western Massachusetts, you aren’t the country. Tennessee is the country. Alabama is the country. You are not the country. I realize you have identity issues – yeah, I’m a Western New Yorker, I know your pain – but don’t complicate your case by listening to country music.)
5) UMass student fans don’t know hockey (or they take pre-gaming to an all new level.)
So, I don’t claim to know a ton about hockey. I know more than the average American – not because I played it, mind you, but more through “Western New York osmosis” (just like how I could instantly ice skate, know the rules of curling and don’t think 10 degrees is all that cold.) But usually, I can tell when a penalty is going against my team, unless they are of the “mysterious slashing/interference” variety that was called often by Saturday evening’s officials. However, the UMass student section started their “we’re on a power play cheer” when one of their players was sent to the box for tripping. Then they abruptly stopped after play started again and they realized, “Oh wait…we’re down a player.” The Boston U. fans cheering didn’t tip them off?
I also noticed that the UMass student section forgot to wear any school apparel – which is fine if you have other plans for the evening that a hockey jersey or school t-shirt wouldn’t be appropriate for. But it makes it hard to distinguish where the student section ends and the regular everyday folks begins. I know hockey jerseys are pricey products – but t-shirts? Matching ones maybe? Would uniformity and school spirit be too much to ask?
6) We got to see an old time hockey fight – complete with stripping!
In the waning minutes of the third period, after the three minutes of Boston U.’s nearly successful “let’s see if an unattended goal can have a better save percentage than our goalie” experiment, Brian McGuirk (one of Boston U.’s captains) got in an old-fashioned fight with a UMass player. I don’t believe they started the tussle – there were really three fights going on at one time – but McGuirk featured a 1970s pulling-the-jersey-off move. McGuirk grabbed his opponent’s jersey at its bottom hem and, in one fell swoop, lifted it over the guy’s head. The opponent retaliated by doing the same. I haven’t seen a fight like that since I was a little girl attending Rochester Amerks games with my parents. Back then, I was a little taken aback at the brutish-ness of it all, as I believe most children probably are. Now that I’m older, I don’t see it as particularly brutal, but just a part of the game. McGuirk and his sparring partner ended up receiving game disqualifications due to the moratorium on fighting in college hockey, so I can’t necessarily encourage any other college hockey players to strip-fight. However, NHL fights need to end in stripping more often. I think it might encourage the female fan base.
7) The UMass announcer is just “doing it for the boys.”
Mash up a Spanish futbol announcer, Chris Berman, and a shrieking teenage girl, and you would have the UMass Amherst announcer. The man was screaming at the top of his lungs the entire evening, and then, when you thought things just couldn’t be taken to a whole new level, he would find a decimal level he hadn’t yet touched. For example, Mr. Announcer would scream, “Penalty on name-BU-player-here, hooking, at 2:25 in the second, giving your Minutemen…” Then he would pause, find some level of noise that only dogs can hear, and shriek, “THE POOOOOOOOWWWWWEEEEERRRR PLLLLLAAAYYYY.” I am all for the enthusiasm, but not all for the grown man shrieking part.
But Mr. Announcer somewhat redeemed himself by his responses to the UMass student section after they thanked him for announcing that there was a minute left in the period. Once, he responded with, “Just doing it for the boys.” Another time, he responded with, “You want it, you got it,” all while shrieking at levels I hadn’t heard since I first listened to Mariah Carey’s self-titled debut album (which, mind you, I listened to on cassette, I’m so old.) I’ve always enjoyed the “Thank you,” response by the crowd after a minute remaining announcement – I just never expected a announcer to make it a back and forth.
Truth be told, the whole experience was so darn amusing that it took the sting out of the horrible loss. I think the amount of times I looked at my boyfriend with a sheer look of terror, fear, or amazement at something having nothing to do with the actual play of the game was greater of the amount of penalty minutes for both teams provided (and there were a lot of those.) These weird experiences, with wacky announcers, dances, stripping and being stalked while heading to the bathroom in the away team’s jersey, is why I am more convinced that college hockey is, without a doubt, the best sport ever.