Maine 8, Dartmouth 4 by Leigh McCarthy

Join the University of Maine men's ice hockey team Jan. 19-20 as it celebrates the 40th Anniversary of not only the program but also the storied Alfond Arena. The Black Bears will battle the rival New Hampshire Wildcats on Friday, Jan. 19 at 7:00 p.m. and on Saturday, Jan 20. at 7:30 p.m.

I didn’t want to go. It was too cold. I was tired from spending my Saturday refereeing a two-year-old and a seven-year-old confined to the house by runny noses. I had never seen a hockey game and it wouldn’t put a dent in my life if I never saw one. I voiced every excuse, feeble complaint, week protestation in vain.

The tickets had been bought. The babysitter had been hired. Reason weighed against me. We went.

We passed the short time along the Interstate to Orono scraping the interior breath frost from the windshield. By the time we reached the university, the glass had cleared enough for us to clearly see great waves and rows of vehicles, carries of hockey aficionados faster than we, stretching far into the dark allies and canyons of the fieldhouse parking lot. We drove around and around, we ranted, we persevered, we parked.

Then we ran. It was too cold to walk. Running pass all those cars in my clumpy boots game that old nutball sensation I used to get trying to walk in skis. If God had wanted mankind to stumble around that way, He would have designed us with great long feet.

We puffed into the Alfond Arena on a blast of Arctic desperation and came body to body with great waves and rows of the hockey aficionados themselves. They were dressed all in down from their heads to their feet, and they were lined up three deep along every passage designed to get us to our appointed seats. The tribal drums of the UMO band thundered at us from somewhere just beyond the three layers of humanity, blood-churning rhythms that squeezed us through the down-and-nylon-lined artery along the back wall until we could break through to the stairs leading to our seats.

Now I could sink down out of my mittens and earmuffs and coat and reconnoiter. I was astonished at the relatively small size of the arena, quite pleasantly astonished. I could see every corner of the rink. I could see very face in the crowd across the way. I could watch the faces looking down from the gallery.

But now the tribal drums began to pound in earnest, the band exploded into the Maine Stein Song, the crowd exploded into general exultation, and two sets of brightly-colored, cloth-covered stuffed dolls swirled out of somewhere and swept down the ice past us.

I couldn’t see them. I knew they were young, half as old as I. I knew they must be strong and fast. I wondered if they were kind. I wondered if they were smart. I wondered if they were shy or if they were romantic opportunists.

Sometimes, when they were drawn close into the boards in front of us, I could see their eyes behind the bars of their armor. The eyes didn’t look into my eyes, so I couldn’t see into them, couldn’t tell if they were shy or kind.

The game started. The players were wild electrified kachina dolls, gods of fire and wind, gods of ice. They skated backwards, they skated sideways, they hopped and jumped and threw themselves down with abandon. One danced on the ice, skated like liquid silver, dazzled and dulled his opposition. The game raged so fiercely that even the young and strong could not sustain the battle for more than a few minutes.

Their replacements came up over the boards with the intensity of doughboys rising out of trenches in the Ardenne. They slammed their sticks at the puck, they slammed their bodies at each other, they bashed into the boards with the force of elephants and skated away with noticing that all their bones should have been shattered in the crunch.

The goaltender stood in ultimate defense of his territory with a stick wrapped in shining tape and a first-basemen’s glove. I never saw the puck. He almost always saw it, knocked it away, impounded it. I couldn’t see, but I could feel the invisible village within the net the goalie guarded. Some atavistic fury drove him, drove the defensemen, to savagery with which they protected their village from the Dartmouth huns.

It was over. Maine’s blue knights had won their hockey game. Our village was safe. The prowess of our defenders would be noticed and rewarded with a step up in the NCAA rankings. I loved it. I was amazed. It was fast, it was exciting, it was fun. For a short time, I could project my spirit out onto the ice field, pretend I was out there meeting the challenge to my village’s life and honor. Those curly-haired athletes made me feel fast when I had never been fast, strong when I had never been strong, powerful when I never had power. I don’t suppose they knew that.

We applauded in unison with the rest of the village when it ended, collected our gear, pushed out through the down and nylon, ran back over the frozen snow, drove home.

I wonder if we can get tickets to the Yale game.

A version of this essay by Leigh McCarthy was originally printed in the University of Maine Men's Ice Hockey 1981-82 Media Guide as well as the Bangor Daily News.

Created By
Maine Black Bears


University Archives/Fogler Library, Chris Violette, UMaine Athletics

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