On the first night of the recent blizzard, almost 12,000 diehard college hockey fans ignored the warnings and attended the Beanpot Tournament at Boston Garden. Some of them did not get home for five days.
The Beanpot Tournament, always the first and second Mondays of February, pairs the four Boston-area rivals each year: Boston University, Boston College, Harvard and North eastern.
Around here, it is as important a social event as those other Boston institutions: the Marathon, Arthur Fiedler's July 4th concert and opening day at Fenway Park.
The college puckmaniacs around these parts say Broncomania is nothing compared to their sport, which is only regional in scope but growing. Even Jack Parker, the feisty coach at undefeated, top-ranked Boston U., was surprised by the turnout.
He recalled the less-severe blizzard of 1969, when only 9,000 made it for the championship game.
"I guess," Parker said, "it's about like The Great Blackout. People want to say, 'I was at the Beanpot for the February Blizzard.'"
A ticket to the Beanpot is said to be the toughest to get in the city. The fans gobble up seats with obstructed views as if they were the best in the house. The Boston Garden, which normally seats about 14,000 for NHL Bruin games, has packed in more than 18,000 for the Beanpot.
"The only tougher ticket to get," a Bostonian said, "is to the 1978 World Series. And they haven't been printed yet."
For the uninitiated, the makeup of today's college hockey game may come as quite a shock. The star defenseman at BU is not a French-Canadian but a Boston Irishman named O'Callahan. College hockey is Americanized now, and has been since Cornell's 1970 team was the last predominantly Canadian squad to win the NCAA championship.
Fighting, a big box-office attraction of pro hockey, not only is discouraged it is severely penalized, with immediate expulsion and one-game suspension. When any altercation starts, players who do not go immediately to their team's bench area are assessed a two-minute penalty for "failure to leave the scene of an altercation."
Whether an altercation is officially a fight or only roughing is left to the discretion of the referee.
In a recent Providence-BU game, the eight other skaters on the ice joined the scufflers in the penalty box because they did not leave the scene immediately.
But the biggest difference between college and pro hockey is the college game's absence of the red line. This allows two-line passes and makes for a quicker game with more finesse.
Not that college hockey is like the ballet.
It, too, is a violent game.
"There's no question that hockey fans, like football fans, like to see physical play," admitted Parker. "But there's enough violent checking to satisfy this urge. Somewhere in Canadian hockey, fighting crept into the game. And now it's accepted as part of the game.
"There are three essential parts to pro hockey now - a puck, a stick and some fights. It's ridiculous and it's drummed into the fans, too. There's no reason why the National Hockey League couldn't control fighting if they wanted to.They think it sells tickets. They might have different people coming to the games, but they'll still be sold out.
"The pros have to get away from the macho-image thinking of 'our cop will beat up their cop and everybody will be happy,'" Parker added.
He says today's new hockey fans don't know what they're missing in the pros because today's style of so much holding, grabbing and interference slows down the game.Parker has the all-time best winning percentage among college hockey coaches, a tad above 80 percent in five seasons. By comparison, only one active college basketball coach, Jerry Tarkanian of Nevada-Las Vegas, is a more consistent winner. Tarkanian has won 86.2 percent in nine years.
A 145-pound center in his college days at BU, Parker lives and coaches on emotions and the basic fundamentals of the game. He thinks the pro player whose only offensive weapon is the slap shot in guilty of treason to the sport.
"I guess I'm like Vince Lombardi in the way I coach," Parker said. "We have a few basic plays, but if you execute like you're supposed to, you'll score. Just like when those two guards pulled and executed, Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor would score for Green Bay."
Despite his success, the 32-year-old Parker has yet to win an NCAA title. After Jack Kelley, the coach under whom the Terriers won two NCAA titles, left for the New England Whalers, his successor, Leon Abbot, became involved in an eligibility scandal that wound up in the courts.
But Parker had a fantastic recruiting effort after the 1976-77 season and landed four of the top five Boston-area prospects. That's like getting 80 per cent of Washington's All-Met basketball team.
The current Terrier team, which averages 44 shots on goal a game, may have as much depth as any team in the history of college hockey.
"There's a lot of talent here," Parker said, which in itself is a rare admission for a coach. "There's always someone to take your spot. A guy can get hurt and never play again."
And he didn't mean because the injury would be so severe.
"BU is like the Pacific Ocean," said Jim Salfi, hockey coach at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. "They come at you wave, after wave, after wave."