They Talk Hockey Here

I’m living in Flint, Mich. – and I love it.

After years of deliberation, I decided to put myself on the academic job market last January and I’ve landed at Mott Community College in Flint.  Sure, I’d seen Roger & Me before I applied for the job.  Yes, I know that Flint has lost over 80,000 jobs from the automotive industry in the past three decades, and I’d heard about the crime.

But I also knew one very important Flint fact before I applied:  Flint is equidistant from Munn and Yost Arenas, and within easy driving distance of several other CCHA teams. 

When looking for jobs, I didn’t limit my search to CCHA territory, but I didn’t apply outside of the reach of college hockey.  Were it not for college hockey, I never would have found Mott Community College, with its diverse and dynamic student body, dedicated faculty and staff and commitment to community service.

And two snakes named Bo and Red.

During my whirlwind week of new faculty orientation and professional development in late August, I discovered that Bo and Red are the names of the boa constrictors in Mott’s zoology lab.  Since I had been cornered by a colleague from the math department to discuss Notre Dame and Michigan State hockey during our faculty cookout, when I learned of the names of Mott’s boas I jumped to the natural conclusion for college sports fans, that they were named in honor of two great coaches associated with the University of Michigan, Bo Schembechler and Red Berenson.

There’s a branch of the University of Michigan here in Flint – although I’m not sure that its existence is acknowledged by the general populace of Ann Arbor – so I had another reason for making the connection. 

Alas, I was wrong.  They’re red boas, hence the rather unimaginative names.

But there’s still plenty of hockey talk here in Flint, one of the reasons why I love it here.  Many of my colleagues and students are not only hockey fans conversant in both the Red Wings and the local IHL Detroit affiliate, the Flint Generals, but they’re also avid CCHA fans with loyalties that span the state.  For most college sports, the town is divided between Michigan and State – and it’s never “Michigan State” in local conversation – but when it comes to college hockey there are plenty of Ferris, Western, Lake and Northern fans here, as there are alumni of each institution all over Flint.

Last week, two different students wore CCHA sweatshirts to class, and a colleague poked his head into my office to say something pithy about the Red Berenson bobblehead on my desk.  Yesterday, another colleague stopped me on my way in from the parking ramp to ask how the Spartans could have been swept by the Buckeyes over the weekend.

And in September, there were two Flint Journal stories about former Spartan goaltender Chad Alban, who sometimes plays for the Generals.  Chad Alban, right there on the front page of the local sports section.

In order to appreciate why all of this adds up to such a big deal, you have to understand what it’s like covering hockey – to be a hockey fan, I suppose – in Columbus.  There was no Blue Jackets chatter there let alone anything pertaining to OSU hockey.  CCHA?  Forget it.  For the general populace in Columbus and 90 percent of the local media, the only game in town is Buckeye football. 

Last weekend, when OSU pulled off another miracle on ice and swept MSU at the Schott, there was no one reporting from the local daily newspaper, the Columbus Dispatch, to mark the event, no one from local television and – because of an unfortunate set of timing coincidences – only one OSU hockey beat reporter, Craig Merz, in attendance, and only on Friday night. 

OSU isn’t alone.  Miami hockey doesn’t get much coverage either, in spite of its consistently excellent performance of the past few seasons and its proximity to Cincinnati, an alleged sports town.

No, they don’t talk hockey much where I used to live but they do here in Flint.  And although Flint has a lot more going for it than most people think – a small but first-class arts scene, great local music and restaurants, a wonderful farmers market, beautiful parks, a surprisingly resilient community spirit and clear sense local identity, several excellent colleges including Mott – that connection to the sport I love has made my transition from Ohio to Michigan so much easier than I imagined.

And the transition itself, from part-time academic employment to full-time work for a terrific college, never would have happened were it not for my passion for college hockey.  Wild.