Posted by: Brad Nixon | March 24, 2010

Hockey Power

Here’s the sort of line you regular readers do not expect to find here:

There’s big excitement about a college hockey game this Saturday afternoon.

Hmm… better check the URL. Yep, sez blaknissan. Hockey? Perhaps his site’s been hacked by someone from Maine. Get “Bill Green’s Maine” on the line. We may have a breaking story here.

As it happens, my alma mater is the top-seeded team overall in the NCAA Division I hockey tournament.

Once the jeering and rude remarks have subsided, I will continue, for those of you left in the room to listen.

I’m not here to write about hockey, because I know almost nothing about the sport. In fact, I could write everything I DO know about the sport and not exceed the typical length of a Western Skies post. I saw the Dayton Gems of the IHL play once in about 1968, and I used to watch “Hockey Night in Canada” during my Ann Arbor year. I think “Hockey Night” was Wednesdays, but every night is Hockey Night in a Canadian winter. (A quick check of the Web tells me the program is still running: that’s 36 years.)

Attending college as I did shortly after classes resumed following the hiatus imposed by the Civil War, there was neither hockey nor a sheet of ice extant in Oxford, Ohio. Like all midwestern schools (except in Indiana, where only basketball is played, year-round) we were a football school: “The Cradle of Coaches.” On many Saturday afternoons one wished we were the “Cradle of Quarterbacks With an Arm” or “Cradle of Linebackers Who Can Tackle,” but, no, we got great coaching instead. We also had basketball, baseball, all the usual stuff, but no varsity hockey.

I happen to know that hockey was played at the school as a club sport back then. I only know that because the guy in the room across the hall from me in sophomore year was on the club. I almost never saw him and one day I asked him if he had a night shift job, since I always heard him heading out about 11 p.m. No, turns out he was on the hockey club, and the nearest ice was down in northern Cincinnati. They had ice time at midnight after the rink closed to the public. Yeow.  He looked like a tough guy. He also looked sleepy.

My question is, how does this happen? How does a school in southwestern Ohio become a hockey power? Last year, the school lost in a heartbreaker in the NCAA finals, and now they’re ranked #1 going into the tournament, which concludes in the wonderfully named “Frozen Four.”

I know that between the time of my bachelor’s degree and when I returned for my master’s the school built an ice rink. It never occurred to me that they were building an ice rink for any reason other than to serve as one more recreational option for the student body in an attempt to keep them out of the bars on High Street. Yet, I think there must have been a Plan. Somewhere in a secret think tank located in a converted handball court deep in the lower level of the old gymnasium a special team was concocting a scheme to make my school a Hockey Power. Some brilliant mind a couple of decades ago perceived that a school like Miami would eventually not be able to compete on the gridiron with the big-money boys in the major conferences, and they’d better stake their future on some other sport. By golly, they built it, and they came! Not only that, the school now has a NEW ice arena, the SECOND one built since I graduated!

In my undergraduate days, the hockey powers were places like U. Maine, Boston and Northern Michigan Technical College. Hell, just getting to class in those places in winter was training for hockey.

Look at the roster of this year’s superstar team, HERE: they come from Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Wisconsin, Ontario and British Columbia. There ARE some Ohio men: 5 out of the roster of 27. Well, you wouldn’t be building the top-ranked college hockey team in the U.S. with Ohio kids, now, would you?

Take my siblings and me, for example. We played hockey. There was a pond behind our house. It froze in winter. Maybe three times in a hard winter. We managed to scare up some bona fide hockey sticks (with no idea whether they were left- or right-handed) and even a puck. Brother Mark may have found that puck, if memory serves. There we were, doodling around out on the frozen pond in our figure skates. We had never seen a hockey skate, and I’ve still never tied on a pair. That pond was probably much smaller than I remember it, but when you skate as slowly as we did, it seemed large. A couple of neighbor kids got out there with us. Everything was fine until Mark’s classmate, Bill, got wind of the game. Bill had moved into town from Somewhere Else: his dad was publisher of the local paper and they lived the itinerant lifestyle publishers share with Army families. Bill could play hockey. He could SKATE! He had HOCKEY SKATES. He killed us. The worst moment was when he got the puck in position and, with his ability to actually stand on his skates and swing his stick without falling down, launched a shot with his superior balance and practiced stick-handling, sending that little black blob of resin rocketing toward the goal at a hundred miles an hour three feet off the ice. We were like natives encountering fire for the first time. We ran and hid.

Back to my point. What is it about alumni that, beleaguered here in middle age, we are expected to cheer for the Auld Sod, even if they’re playing a sport that was unknown to us in the halcyon days of our matriculation? Granted, I’ll never see the school football team in a postseason bowl, much less the BCS. My paltry donations to the place don’t even go for athletics, they’re for the library and liberal arts programs. Granted, I”ll never merit having a hall named after me, but I might get my name inside some volume in the library, although it’ll probably be something like, “Socio-Economic Causes of Degenerative Despotic African Tyrannies.” Besides, there’s already one Nixon building on the campus, named after my illustrious cousin Corwin, HERE.

Am I really supposed to resort to some local sports bar come Saturday, wearing whatever pitiful approximation of the School Colors I possess, and cheer for a HOCKEY TEAM? Not what I signed on for, thank you.

Worst of all, as the team takes the ice, I can’t even give the traditional “Go ‘Skins!” battle cry. In the name of political correctness, we bartered away the mascot of my youth, the Miami Redskins, for a Redhawk. It’s actually a pretty darned good name, you know, except memory is powerful, and not all memories yield to the tyranny of time.

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Responses

  1. Got hired many years ago to shoot the Hockey Worlds in Macau of all places – on grass not ice. Thought it was going to be a doddle until I tried to follow the ball for all the first match of about fifty – talk about BLOODY FAST Trev! Holy moses did that ball MOVE!
    10 days later six of us spend all day in a Macau massage sauna getting rid of all the aches and pains and ‘tensions’ from trying to follow the fastest ball on earth with a television camera !

    Like

  2. Hey, your “progressive” Californian! Go to a bar and watch a hockey game and ignore the chics blading by in halter tops! Hockey is a physical game played by hard working athletes who occassionally flash dashes of grace. Add the collegiate spirit and you have something special. Go Red Hawks! Brad, if the game doesn’t seem indigenous to you, consider your opponent, Alabama-Huntsville!

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  3. Oh, so that’s why I could never book a handball court during my time there. Darn think tanks.

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  4. I don’t know if college hockey players get drafted by the pros and leave school early, but I count only four seniors on the team. Next season could be eventful also.

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    • Maybe Cousin Bill G. will be able to tell us about that going-pro thing in college hockey.

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  5. I’ve got to weigh in with a load of trivial name dropping and personal connections to all this.

    Seeing how my daughter attends dear old MU (did you know it’s probably more popular amongst suburban Chicagolanders than Cincinnatians – neither did I until a few years ago), and I’ve failed to convince her to attend a hockey game in all this time, I’ve tried all the tricks.

    First, she’s a sorority sister with a girl whose older brother is the/a star on the team – and they live five doors away from us here in Chicago suburbia. I’ve never met them (they’re on the other side of the tracks from us), but he was drafted by San Jose a few years ago. Which proves that if you think MU Hockey is strange, go ahead and try to explain the San Jose Sharks (traditional California glacial valleys?). He returned to MU, and is having a second go at the title after last year’s fiasco.

    Second, another friend of dear daughter has a younger brother who was the first round pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets (see San Jose comment – but at least you can see Canada from Ohio) in this year’s NHL draft. He is now living in Ontario playing junior hockey and thinking about whether he’ll bother with college, or try the minor league route.

    Again, I cannot convince daughter, or even son who knows these people as well, to attend these games, let alone the Frozen Four which is in Detroit in a week or two – easy drive from here, but, still, it’s Detroit.

    Finally, when MU won a big game a few weeks back my daughter, and roommates, pointed out that the games are sold-out, and require a several hour wait in line for tickets and entry into Goggins (the name of the incredible facility the now use).

    Finally, finally, have even seen to student recreation center at MU? Think Disney without rodents.

    Mainers may have different views, so salt to taste.

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    • I was WELL AWARE of all those New Trier kids when I matriculated, and now I KNOW ONE!

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  6. Sorry – had a grammar/syntax collapse in the last few paragraphs.

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