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Bowdoin-Colby Hockey Game: our oldest, coldest tradition

January 31, 2020

Dalia Tabachnik
Ah, the Bowdoin-Colby Hockey Game, the enduring symbol of everything that is great about our fine institution: Polar Bear spirit, old-timey sportsmanship, a creative excuse to get drunk before dinner. The liberal arts at their finest.

I firmly believe that there is a single, definitive and insurmountable divide that separates Bowdoin students into two camps: kids who went to high schools with hockey teams and kids who went to high schools without hockey teams. And this isn’t just a proxy for other, more serious divisions: prep schools and non-prep schools; New England and, like, whatever God-forsaken part of the country lies beyond New England. There are high school ice hockey leagues in Arizona. Hockey, in the desert.

But that’s beside the point. The point is, the Bowdoin-Colby hockey game is the great unifier. It is the perennial reminder that all of us—jocks and NARPs, New Englanders and stateless wastrels—all belong to a single and insoluble class: the class of people who went to colleges with hockey teams. Membership is for life.

This Saturday’s game will be the 213th meeting of the two teams in a tradition that dates back to 1922. Then-President of the United States Warren Harding dropped the ceremonial puck at the first game, after which he concluded that his political career had reached its apex and promptly died.* I’m kidding, of course. The apex of Harding’s political career was the Teapot Dome scandal, but he didn’t live to see that one break. A shame and a pity.

It is, however, worth taking a moment to appreciate the augustness of a tradition that dates back nearly a century. Not many of Bowdoin’s traditions can claim such antiquity. Ivies, in its current, ivy-less form, dates back only to the 1960s. The Bowdoin Log was invented in 1958 (also by then-Vice President Richard Nixon, who wanted to call it simply “The Dick.” Ms. Connie exercised her veto).†

But yes, it’s true: The Bowdoin-Colby Hockey Game is Bowdoin’s great unifying tradition, bringing together the entire student body and connecting past, present and future generations of students in a long, unbroken line of confusion about what the hell ‘icing’ is and how it’s different from offsides.

The whole thing is made even more exciting by the air of exclusivity and legitimacy created by the ticketing regime. Personally, I love having to get tickets to do things that I could do just as easily without tickets. Tickets to Sunday brunch at Thorne? I’m all in. Permits to sit on the quad? Sign me up.

And kudos to the baseball players for manning the entryways and checking said tickets. Always thorough and unbiased. Customs and Border Patrol could learn a thing or two from you.

The actual game is, of course, one of the less exciting parts of the whole experience. Too many complicated and obscure rules (Example A: icing.) Also, the NESCAC has gone soft and banned fighting, which is 90 percent of why most people watch hockey in the first place, so that’s ruled out. (You know where they do allow fighting? The Arizona High School Hockey Association. That’s what they call the Frontier Mindset.)

The real highlights, as everyone knows, are the chants, which achieve the impressive feat of combining an intense focus on the reproductive capacities of mules with a remarkably frank expression of Bowdoin students’ usually-unspoken sense of intellectual elitism. Talk about poetry in motion.

Which isn’t to say that I am not deeply, deeply invested in the outcome of the game. To the fellas on the ice: please win. My fellow seniors and I will feel extremely cheated if we graduate never having witnessed a Bowdoin victory. Not only that, but I hear they put an asterisk on our diplomas and outright cancel our first reunion.

Or, if you’re going to lose, at least make it obvious early on. The 2018 blowout? Perfect. We could leave before the third period without fear of missing something really exciting. Last year, you strung us along for kinda a long time. Heartbreaking, really.

But I will admit, my money is on the Polar Bears this year. The stats are on our side. So are all those dedicated townies who show up and cast side-eyed glances at students (not me) who ask repeatedly, and to no avail, what the hell icing is.

But in the end, if the result isn’t in our favor, so it goes. After graduation, I can always move to a real hockey town—like Tucson, or maybe Phoenix.

 

*1/3 of this is true.

†All of this is true.

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