When choosing superlatives for a college hockey crowd, “classiest” is not always the adjective selected. Roam from rink to rink and invariably there will be moments in the game when you have to turn to your young one and say “earmuffs.”
In fact, the clever and crass banter has become such standard fare that it has become inextricably linked to the sport’s tradition. Like fighting at the pro level, it is the part of the game that we ought to officially denounce, but secretly revel.
Certainly Wisconsin, with its massive home-ice advantage, had the chance to take such cheering to another level. Coach Mike Eaves has used “climbing the mountain” as the metaphor for the year, and the Badger faithful had the chance to ascend to the Everest of Epithets.
Instead, the people of Wisconsin took the opportunity of the Frozen Four to remind us all of something that we like even better in athletic competition: sportsmanship.
The crowd was doggedly, enthusiastically, and even maniacally positive. Sure, they did the “Sieve!” cheer and even booed a few times, but that was it. For the better part of four days the sea of red jumped up and down, clapped, rolled out the barrel and had a gay old time.
Only the world’s biggest misanthrope could not be at least partially happy that such a cheerful bunch got rewarded with a national championship.
“They have a long tradition of boisterous support for the home team here,” said Boston College coach Jerry York. “It was never anti-opposition, just a pro-Badger environment. We enjoyed playing in it.”
Never did the crowd shine more than after the game was over. Boston College patiently stood and watched the delirium grip the Bradley Center in the throes of victory. After shaking hands with the Badgers, the Eagle players waited for an awards ceremony to begin that took forever.
Wisconsin had been handed the national championship trophy early, passing it around, presumably so ESPN could get some good footage before cutting away. Finally, York decided that enough was enough and quietly motioned to his team to go into the locker room.
While the Eagle players tried to be as unobstrusive as possible, the Bradley Center noticed and started to clap for the visiting Eagles. In the midst of the unmitigated joy of celebrating their own championship, the Wisconsin faithful spontaneously paused to acknowledge the effort BC put forth in a game that, but for a final post, could still be going on.
Nobody prompted it. The people just did the right thing. The Boston College players returned to the ice and saluted their own fans who made the trip to Milwaukee, and then raised their sticks to the entire Bradley Center before departing again into that most painful of places: second.
In the process, the Wisconsin fans reminded us all of the greater purpose of the Frozen Four. Beyond crowning a national champion, this tournament is the one time for college hockey to come together and celebrate the game that we all love.
We are reminded that despite the growth the sport has experienced over the past decade and the vast distances that separate teams, it really is a small, mutually supportive community.
It’s the time for East and West, North and further North, USCHO and INCH to meet in one place for one great party. The stories mount from the Fan Forum hockey game, to the moose calls at the Hobey Baker, to the existence of the Humanitarian Award, to the countless after-hours soirees.
The Frozen Four is a chance to put aside petty differences and simply have fun.
Just like the Wisconsin fans did.
These moments of sportsmanship should be celebrated and cherished. These are the lessons to pass on to your kids, principles of which all of us need to be reminded from time to time.
Nice guys do finish first, don’t you know?