It's Magic Time

The World's Most Famous Arena welcomes college hockey again

Nov. 21, 2007

Watch Boston University-Cornell Live on CSTV XXL

By Elliot Olshansky

CSTV.com



ELLIOT OLSHANSKY

Elliot is CSTV.com's hockey editor and runs his Rink Rat hockey blog on CSTV.com.
E-mail here!

 

Madison Square Garden is hardly perfect.

 

After covering the 2KSports College Hoops Classic benefitting Coaches vs. Cancer last week, CSTV.com's David Scott wrote, "If you weren't born in or around the greater-Manhattan area, it's hard to see the appeal of MSG. More often than not, it smells like a dive bar at closing, with spilled beer, stale popcorn and bad body odor."


 

 

 

Valid criticisms, perhaps - albeit a bit exaggerated - but don't tell that to anyone who's had the opportunity to play there.

 

Connecticut head coach Bruce Marshall brought his Huskies to New York for the last college hockey game to be played at the "World's Most Famous Arena," as UConn faced Quinnipiac in Manhattan March 1, 2003. The game, held to inaugurate the "Heroes' Hat" trophy between the two teams (dedicated in memory of those who perished in the September 11 attacks, specifically two with ties to the two programs), didn't exactly draw a "big-time" game atmosphere - a respectable college hockey attendance of 2,115 made for a small crowd in the 18,200-seat arena - but that made little difference to the teams' experience in the 4-3 Quinnipiac win.

 

"I think if you took a bunch of guys and said, `Hey, do you want to go play hockey in the old Montreal Forum?' right now," Marshall said, "they wouldn't care if there were 10 people there. Hockey guys are like that. They appreciate anything special that's going to come at them.

 

"Going into Madison Square Garden, it was awesome. The kids were in awe of coming into New York City, then seeing Madison Square Garden. We're down in the dressing room, and Bruce Springsteen was here the other night, and then you can see the Rangers' locker room, and a couple of their upper personnel were in there. It was an unbelievable experience for our guys."

 

For Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold, he had his own moment of being a kid in awe when he brought the Bobcats to Madison Square Garden.

 

"The game was a noon start," Pecknold said, "because the Rangers played at 7, so we were there waiting to go on the ice for warm-ups, and the Rangers had a pre-game skate at 10:00, so after the pre-game skate, Terry O'Reilly, who was the Rangers' assistant coach at the time, came over. We had five stickboys, aged eight to 11, so he came over to say hi to them, and I got to meet Terry O'Reilly. He was my favorite player growing up. That was an absolute huge thrill for me, and I don't think Terry realized that."

 

Like Marshall, Pecknold remembers the whole event as a thrill.

 

"It was a unique experience for my players," Pecknold said, "something that they'll always fondly remember. Just playing in an arena with that type of history, the whole trip itself, there was an extra added excitement to it."

 

While the Heroes' Hat game in New York was an unforgettable experience for those who played in it, Saturday night will bring something else altogether.

 

As Cornell and Boston University prepare to take the ice at Madison Square Garden in the "Red Hot Hockey Classic" (Saturday, 8 pm ET, CSTV), the game is sold out, with tickets being sought for as much as four times face value on Craigslist and being offered for $440 on Stubhub.com.

 

The Big Red and the Terriers don't meet under the best of circumstances on the ice, with BU bringing a 3-7-2 record into the game and the Big Red at 4-3-0 on the season, but little could dampen the excitement the two teams and their notoriously intense fanbases will bring to New York Saturday.

 

"Saturday night of Thanksgiving weekend in a sold-out Madison Square Garden featuring two of college hockey's historic programs. What could possibly be better?" said Dave Ogrean, USA Hockey's executive director. "I'm sure it will be an electric atmosphere, one that all those involved will remember for a long time to come."

 

BU head coach Jack Parker certainly doesn't have to be told. Parker played at the third incarnation of the storied venue in 1966 as part of the ECAC Holiday Festival, and coached in the current Garden in 1977 as part of the same tournament.

 

"I had played in the Madison Square Garden Christmas tournament," Parker said, "and had coached in the Madison Square Garden Christmas tournament, so I always knew that that was a pretty cool deal."

 

Of course, it didn't hurt that Parker has won all five games he's been part of at Madison Square Garden, but when university president Robert A. Brown was looking to host a major function in New York City, the idea of playing hockey at the Garden quickly became an attractive one.  However, the only way to do it was against the Big Red, who have faced the Terriers only sparingly since the Hockey East schools split off from the ECAC in 1984.

 

"The only way it would absolutely, positively have a chance of working would be if Cornell was the other team," Parker said, "because of the rivalry, and because Boston University and Cornell have huge numbers of alums in the greater New York City area."

 

Cornell head coach Mike Schafer didn't need much convincing.

 

"I thought it was a great idea," Schafer said. "We had looked into it a few years ago, getting to possibly run a tournament out there, but it just never worked out. Obviously, I'm very happy our administration jumped on board."

 

The game is scheduled to be the first of a three-game series between the schools, with future years' games scheduled for Lynah Rink in Ithaca and Agganis Arena in Boston.  However, getting to renew the rivalry in Madison Square Garden heightens the experience.

 

"The idea of having a get-together with Cornell was exciting," BU head coach Jack Parker said, "but having it at Madison Square Garden, in arguably the richest historic sports venue there is, as far as name recognition, it's something that just adds to the panache of the whole thing."

 

"To play in Madison Square Garden," Schafer said, "I know from talking to a lot of our alumni that the whole nature of it down in Madison Square Garden is one of the fondest memories to play in their collegiate career, so to get an opportunity to go back down there, play a big traditional rival, and a coach that I've respected for a long period of time, it's going to be a great event."

 

Of course, it won't just be a great event for the two participating schools, but the game also has value for college hockey as a whole.  Unlike the UConn-Quinnipiac game, the Red Hot Hockey Classic will be played in front of a sellout crowd with a national television audience, a true showcase event for the sport.

 

 "When you look at some of the other venues that we have crowds in," Parker said, the Beanpot, the Great Lakes Invitational, the fact that they've drawn great crowds for the outdoor games in Michigan and Wisconsin...any time you can expose the college game to a big crowd in a big venue, I think it adds to the prestige overall of college hockey."

 

But in the end, the players will make this game, and as the Terriers and Big Red prepare to battle on Broadway, they'll take the greatest memories from Saturday night's game.

 

"Just knowing the kids at Cornell, and I'm sure the BU kids, too, how excited they must be to play in front of a crowd like that in a place like New York City, it's going to be a great experience for them," said Big Red alum and longtime NHL veteran Joe Nieuwendyk, now working with the Florida Panthers as Special Assistant to the General Manager.

 

As Parker said, "The best part about this is that the players on both of these teams will get to play in this venue with a big crowd watching against a rival in what should be a game they'll remember for a long, long time."

 

 

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