College Hockey: The Women Lace ‘Em Up For Their Own Beanpot
While I’ve had a few years to familiarize myself with the more obvious differences in the sexes, I had to admit that I’d never considered the question in the context of ice hockey. So when presented with the perfect opportunity to come up to speed on that topic, I jumped on it.
I had spent the previous night at a sold-out TD Garden, home of the tradition-laden Boston Bruins and Boston Celtics…and a pretty popular 59-year-old college hockey get-together they call the Beanpot.
On this night I was headed to Conte Forum, on the campus of Boston College, where I would experience that event’s little sister – the 33rd annual Women’s Beanpot.
The beauty of this little comparative exercise was that, other than the little matter of 26 years of history, the two events are practically identical in nature and in format. On successive Tuesdays each February, the women’s hockey teams from Boston University, Boston College, Harvard and Northeastern University play for an odd little statue – and massive bragging rights.
Just like the men.
Also the same as with the men, the matchups for the first-round double-header pitted Harvard against Northeastern in the opener, and archrivals BU and BC in the late game.
I had chosen to lend my fan-dom support to the Harvard Crimson and the Northeastern Huskies, partly because of residual guilt for snubbing this match-up in the men’s Beanpot – but mostly because it was easier to spawn my way westward from downtown Boston to Chestnut Hill at 4:30 PM than at 6:30 PM. In case you didn’t know, the term “Boston Driver” didn’t stem from respect and admiration for wicked skillful navigation techniques.
There was also the vague notion that I might be hard-pressed to get a good seat for what amounted to an Eagles home game on steroids in the nightcap. It occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, I’d have more options in an early game featuring two campus interlopers.
Sure enough, I rolled into a free covered parking spot just a few hundred yards from the entrance to Conte Forum – where I was greeted with the news that a ticket would cost a very reasonable $8, with a free program tossed in.
“Have a seat anywhere you’d like,” the women at the ticket window told me. Little did I know how literal her invitation was. For when I emerged from the tunnel into the seating bowl, I quickly realized that my General Admission receipt would provide not just a front row seat, but an entire front row – all the all the way around the rink. There couldn’t have been more than 100 people on hand, the vast majority of whom were in their season ticket boxes.
Naturally I panicked. I’d never had this much choice spectating real estate available to me. I couldn’t make a decision. My seasoned Sports Fan instincts said “Sit up high, so you can look down at the play unfolding”. But the Little Kid in me said, “Are you nuts? You can be inches from the action!” And thus, the entire warm-up and first ten minutes of the game was spent test-driving different seats and viewing angles. I wound up establishing a personal best of 17 different seats used during a two-hour game. In the end, the Little Kid won.
This is what I learned from my front-row, corner-ice vantage point: Hockey is a whole lot faster when you’re right there at ice level. But it seems more disorganized because you lose the chess game perspective you get from a bird’s eye view. Things seem a bit more random as you wait for the action to come to your little corner of the world. When they do though…
Northeastern scored early and threatened often. They led 2-0 just over halfway through the first period, and when they tacked on another goal early in the second, the rout was on. But somebody forgot to tell Harvard they were getting killed – and so they never got around to panicking.
It typically doesn’t take long for a bunch of Harvard students to figure something out, and in this particular case that time frame was about one-half of one hockey game. After having their first 20 or so shots turned aside by Northeastern goalie Leah Sulyma, the Crimson’s Kate Buesser snuck one past her at 12:30 of the second period to, um…break the ice, so to speak.
Anybody that wandered into the arena during the third period couldn’t have been blamed for thinking that the scoreboard was malfunctioning, because the team that owned the ice at that time couldn’t possibly be the ones trailing 3-1. As Harvard mounted one offensive surge after another, the story line quickly became one of whether Northeastern would be able to ride those early three goals and the hot hand of goalie Sulyma and outlast Harvard – or whether the Crimson could make up for lost time before all of it expired.
With five minutes left in the game, it looked increasingly like the Huskies would pull off the improbable – win a game in which they mustered fewer than half the shots on goal of their opponents.
A Harvard goal by Ashley Wheeler with 4:14 remaining kept alive a faint pulse, but it took the daughter of a former Red Sox catcher to take the drama to a new level. Less than one minute later, Marissa Gedman (daughter of 13-year MLB veteran Rich Gedman) brought the Crimson all the way back with a screened shot from the blue line.
New ball game (puck game?), 3-3. If it’s technically possible for a group of 100 people to generate a “roar”, we pulled it off.
Just as had been the case the previous evening in that other Beanpot, we headed into overtime. But in a delightful turn of events, the break in play on this night was just two minutes, as opposed to the interminable fifteen minutes that we twiddled our thumbs through in the men’s game.
Though this overtime started with a whole lot more alacrity, it wasn’t over quite as quickly. The two teams completed the OT period deadlocked, and moved into a best-of-three shootout format to decide things. Which also ended tied, when each team converted one of their three opportunities.
Sudden death. Both teams get one shot. If you make yours and the other team misses theirs, you win. Here’s how it played out…
That was Harvard’s poised sophomore Josephine Pucci, scoring on the Crimson’s very first opportunity; followed by goalie Laura Bellamy turning away Kristi Kehoe’s attempt on behalf of Northeastern.
It was a great game, with a very satisfying ending. But a shockingly low number of people saw it.
As I made my way back to my car, I couldn’t help thinking that I had witnessed a big disconnect over the course of the past two evenings.
I had seen two hockey games played against a backdrop of decades of tradition. Two games which featured high quality play at an elite level of competition. Two overtime thrillers, both of which sent me home a very satisfied Sports Fan. Yet one was played in a nationally renowned arena in front of thousands of fans and a regional television audience, while the other was played in almost total anonymity.
And I couldn’t help but think that in terms of value for my time and money, the latter was by far the better product.
In the financial world, savvy Wall Street types would be arbitraging the bejesus out of this situation, and the market value of the Women’s Beanpot would start to climb dramatically vis a vis the Men’s Beanpot. But as sure as you’re reading this, next year the attendance and media attention will still be tilted to the latter. By an enormous factor.
I’m not naïve. I know that any team-based sporting event involving men will always outdraw what on paper is an equivalent event involving women, for any number of reasons. But really…by a factor of roughly 17, 000 to 100?
Is it just me, or is there something about that equation that just doesn’t seem to make complete sense? Maybe I’ve read Michael Lewis’s Moneyball one time too many…
Or maybe it was simply time to end the 22-day IGTS Winter Sports Swing and head home to figure this one out.
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