Tuesday night I found myself driving through the darkness of New Hampshire as my Jeep careened up 89 North toward my hometown in Vermont. Having taken this trip many Thanksgivings and Christmases past, I was well aware that in this hour or so stretch of the Live Free or Die state there is nothing on the radio dial but static, and a lot of evangelical Christian rock. This is why I was surprised to stumble upon the broadcast of an early week UNH vs Brown college hockey game somehow making its way to my car through the New Hampshire radio wave triangle.
I chalked it up as a Thanksgiving miracle and cranked the volume. I took a sip of my coffee and listened to the sound of the boards giving with every check and the random voices echo in the Whittemore Center. After a few minutes of play by play they announced the score. Brown 5 UNH 3. I smirked a little. I found myself reflecting on the parity of the college hockey in the New England area we are lucky enough to have in great abundance. The Brown Bears had a two goal lead on the Wildcats in the third period, something the #2 BU Terriers couldn’t do a week before in their home and home with UNH.
Just four days earlier a reporter had asked Boston University Coach Jack Parker if their game with Brown the Saturday after Thanksgiving might be a trap as they had a big home and home with BC the following weekend. This was during the post game press conference of BU’s 4-2 win over UNH at Aggainis splitting the weekend series with the Wildcats.
“Well Brown has one of the best power play’s in the country right now so it’s hard for me to overlook something like that. You can’t underestimate that team or any team for that matter,” Parker said bluntly. I’m pretty sure the poor student reporter was loosening his tie as he had begun to blush with embarrassment.
And here was UNH overlooking Brown. Did they not have the same scouting report that the Terriers had? Were they thinking about their turkey dinners on Thursday and a much needed break from the drudges of school and hockey? Regardless, I was happy that the natural ebb and flow of hockey unpredictability was still intact.
At the beginning of the season the coaches poll had picked Boston University to finish fifth is Hockey East. 12 games in they only have one loss and the #2 ranking in the country.
Merrimack, which has always been a staple Hockey East doormat was now in the national rankings at #18 after tying BU twice and beating BC. Some preseason reports had analysts running up and down Boston Colleges schedule unsure of how they could loose a game at all this season. And while 8-4 is still a great start, who could have seen early splits with Merrimack and lowly UVM?
And here the icing on the cake, UNH was getting trounced by Brown at home.
It was college hockey in New England and anything could happen.
In all throughout the Northeast between Hockey East, ECAC, and Atlantic Hockey, we have over 30 teams that could beat each other on any given night under the right circumstances. Talent is abundant enough in today’s college hockey landscape where goalies can make 47 saves and keep their team in a game they have no business being in. An under the radar first line could become overly annoying and be on top of a nationally ranked team by two goals like was the case tonight on my radio.
Maybe I’m a hockey purist but if Nebraska-Omaha can have a top five ranked team then anyone in the mass of teams we have in New England can have a chance to beat their polar opposite on any given weekend. For some reason I have a feeling if I went to Omaha Nebraska and asked about their No. 4 ranked Mavericks I would get a lot of confused looks and “WHAT? HOCKEY?! HERE?!” But maybe not. Maybe it’s a testament to the growth of the game and if I’m mistaken my good people of Nebraska, I have no problem eating my words.
As a former college hockey player, fan, and journalist, I feel lucky having such great hockey every time the puck is dropped. One of my roommates is a gambling man and always tells me that his fellow gamblers and bookies say to never bet on hockey. It’s too wild. It’s not safe. It doesn’t matter who’s playing. Just don’t do it. It is an incredible testament to our game, that you can never feel safe enough in predicting a winner that you would put your hard earned money on it.
To no surprise my great pre thanksgiving hockey game was sizzling out on the airwaves. The static became louder and louder and I finally gave up. I scrolled through the stations for five or so minutes, hoping to find some top 40 dance mixes to keep me awake for another two hours. A little later my seek bar stopped and the inside of my car was filled with the screams of a young UNH play by play man, shrieking at the top of his lungs. “UNH SCORES OFF THE FUNNY BOUNCE TO TIE IT UP! THE WILDCATS SCORE TWICE IN 11 SECONDS TO TIE THE GAME IN THE LAST MINUTES!!” I spit my coffee out on the steering wheel and smiled.