Standing in a sea of blue and white, I am nervous for what could potentially be a very long three periods. This isn’t just any game. The defending national champions have come to our house and everyone knows deep down that we can’t just let them walk all over us. Maybe tonight is the night that the boys figure it out and things start to click.
The announcer begins to announce the visiting lineup and before I can even comprehend the first name, the entire place in-sync screams “Who cares?” completely belittling the kid in the maroon sweater who just skated to the blue line in front of over five thousand screaming fans steeped in rich Maine tradition. “When you say Maine Black Bears, you’ve said it all,” the world-famous student section blares, and just like that the puck is dropped and we’re underway.
This is Maine. For decades, every Friday and Saturday night, a good portion of the student body has prepared for the battle that will take place in Alfond Arena. There have been numerous documentaries on the unique atmosphere found at the Alfond, and when you add the student section to that, according to any player or coach, it becomes the hardest place to play college hockey.
In the late 1990s when Maine was a true dynasty, winning national championships and playing deep into the tournament every year, people would camp out for days in front of the Alfond, ordering Pat’s Pizza directly to their spot in line in unforgiving zero-degree Maine weather, forgoing their sanity just to be first in the door to start the alcohol-fueled chirping and dehumanizing of the adversary.
Have we gone astray from our old traditions and ways? I can’t say that I have ever seen anyone camping outside of the Alfond in the past two years of being here. This day and age, we can flip on our TV and watch the game from the comfort of our own homes, or even just open up an app on our phones that will give us real-time updates and even play-by-play from anywhere in the world. So why would we even need to go to the games?
That’s out of the question.
Last year when Maine swept Boston College at home, the Alfond got so loud that the players on the bench could not even hear Coach Whitehead yelling directions to them from a mere two feet away. There was not a single soul in that building not on their feet going absolutely nuts. The vibe was indescribable as everyone came together as one UMaine community to boost their team to victory.
It’s the little things that can vanish as a tradition is handed down from class to class. I don’t see the Alfond quieting down anytime soon or having more seats empty than full, but the smaller, less prominent rituals surrounding the deep-rooted tradition are quietly fading.
I wish I had had the opportunity to go to a game in 1999 and compare then to now, in an age where technology wasn’t quite yet dominating everything we do. Technology becomes more prevalent every day but one thing that hasn’t changed is the fact that we had some amazing talent back then and we are lucky that today we do as well. Our team is chock-full of proven stars and arguably even more young guns that have the potential to post a lot of Ws for us over the next few years.
We need to get back to our ways of the late 1990s as a community and a fanbase: camping out for games, packing the student section totally full, or getting even louder and more charged up for our flagship sport here at UMaine. From a player’s standpoint, the effect of a new wave of fanfare and passion for their team could spark something, and after witnessing the Black Bears play the way they did against BC Friday night — even with the loss — the future is bright.