Less than two weeks ago, the Bowdoin community was basking in unseasonably warm weather, highlighted by the record-breaking temperature of 64 degrees on December 3 that smashed the previous high by a full eight degrees. Yet with the first big snowstorm blowing through Brunswick this past Wednesday, the chill of winter has certainly arrived, and with it the highly anticipated return of the storied Bowdoin-Colby hockey rivalry.
This weekend marks the 191st and 192nd meetings of the Polar Bears (4-0 NESCAC, 5-0 overall) and the Mules (2-2 league, 4-2 overall), one of the oldest college hockey rivalries in the nation. Bowdoin currently holds a 98-84-8 edge over the rival Mules in the all-time series.
However, the immediate impact on the NESCAC standings from this weekend's games will be significant, as an undefeated Bowdoin currently sits in a tie with Middlebury atop the league.
Colby will host the opening game of the weekend doubleheader this evening, before the two teams return to Bowdoin for the final regular season contest between the teams on Saturday night.
The long history of the rivalry will take a step toward the future with Saturday's match up, as the two teams meet in the new Sidney J. Watson Arena for the first time.
In addition to the weekend doubleheader for the men, the Bowdoin women's team (2-1-1 league, 3-2-1 overall) will face their own challenge tonight as well when the Colby women (0-2-2 league, 1-2-3 overall) come to Watson Arena.
"We expect them to be fast... and physically tough defensively," said Head Coach Stacy Wilson. "They also have a natural goal scorer in No. 21 [Stephanie Scarpato]."
A victory for the women's team would give the Polar Bears a three-game winning streak, moving the team ahead of Trinity College in the NESCAC standings.
Most importantly, "it would mean that the players have continued to build on their previous success and taken their play to a new level of consistency, thus leading to a very successful pre-holiday campaign," said Wilson.
"It is an intense rivalry, so you know that both teams will be competing hard," she added. "This undoubtedly leads to an exciting game for anyone watching."
According to Director of Athletics Jeff Ward, such a development is only fitting as it was, "in the 1960s when Sid Watson was the coach [that the rivalry] really heated up."
It is obvious that the Bowdoin-Colby competition has only prospered in the decades after Watson, as it has formed into one of the preeminent college hockey rivalries in the nation.
"I have been fortunate to have experienced three of the top five or six rivalries in college hockey," said men's hockey Head Coach Terry Meagher, a 26-year veteran of the event. "Boston University-Boston College, Clarkson University-Saint Lawrence University, and Bowdoin-Colby. The Bowdoin-Colby rivalry is as special as any in the nation. There is always a buzz in the air as the game approaches."
Indeed, the excitement generated by the long-standing rivalry is undeniable.
"Bowdoin and Colby are the only two NESCAC schools in Maine with hockey programs, so there is definitely a sense of regional pride when we play," said captain Colin McCormack '10.
"Going back to my freshman year, I would say that the atmosphere of the rink really defines what the rivalry means not only to the players," said McCormack, "but to the entire student body and the community at large."
Ward provided a similar analysis of the rivalry, commenting on the energy and enthusiasm that is unique to Bowdoin-Colby hockey games.
"The old Dayton Arena building would just hum," he said. "You couldn't even hear the PA announcements."
Despite the move to the spacious Watson Arena, Ward was not concerned that the enthusiastic atmosphere would be diminished in any way.
"Watson is unique in that a lot of new rinks today are quiet, but in Watson you can actually hear the action out on the ice," he said.
As one of the players out on the ice, McCormack acknowledged the impact that a passionate crowd can have on a game.
"While I think you approach every game with the same level of preparedness," he said, "there is certainly something about having a full crowd of people that propels you to give that little bit extra."
"It is a very special occasion being the first Bowdoin-Colby game in the new Watson Arena, so hopefully we can give our fans something to cheer about," he added.
Although promoting a game that is so well attended may seem unnecessary, Ward described the matchup as "a contagious event. When you go to the game, it is just pure fun...particularly at this time [of] year, it's just good stress relief."
And not to forget the most important role of any Bowdoin fan, Ward added that, "Being loud and enthusiastic is certainly encouraged."
Such a long-running competition is certain to have its fair share of good stories, and the Bowdoin-Colby rivalry does not disappoint.
"A few years back there was a three-minute period in one of the games where we continually controlled the puck, just continually attacked the goal," said Ward. "It felt like swarming bees; at Colby they referred to it as 'The Shift.'"
There is also the annual tradition of the Peter Schuh Memorial Award, given to the most valuable player of the Bowdoin-Colby contest held in Brunswick. The award honors Schuh, a hockey player and Bowdoin student who died in an automobile accident as a sophomore in 1994.
To an unknowing fan, it may seem surprising that one of the best college hockey rivalries can be found at two small D-III schools in Maine. But this weekend presents a unique opportunity for the Bowdoin community to "be a part of history," said Meagher. "One of the most storied rivalries in college hockey enters a new era with the first game in Sidney J. Watson Arena."