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Bowdoin vs. Colby: The longest-running rivalry in small-college hockey

January 27, 2023

Editor’s Note January 27, 2023 at 11:15 a.m.: An earlier version of this article identified this meeting of the Colby and Bowdoin men’s hockey teams as the 217th meeting. It will be, in fact, the 218th meeting. 

Courtesy of George J. Mitchell Special Collections
OLD SCHOOL: Edward Good ’71 scores a goal against Colby College in 1971. The two teams will clash for the 217th time tomorrow night at Sidney J. Watson Arena in front of a full house of students and alumni.

The men’s hockey team (11–5–1; 5–5–1 NESCAC) and rival Colby College (9–6–2; 7–3–1 NESCAC) will meet for the 218th time tomorrow night in one of the longest-running small-college hockey rivalries. The teams played their first game against each other in 1922, which the Mules won 2–1. Bowdoin has a record of 34–31–4 against Colby since 1990, including a 20–13–1 home record, but has lost its last six games to the Mules.

Bowdoin most recently played Colby in December and fell 4–2 in Waterville. Polar Bear goals were from Gabe Shipper ’26 and Jack Studley ’24, and Colby scored three unanswered goals in the third frame to secure its win.

Although Sidney J. Watson arena will be filled to the brim with students and alumni on Saturday night, it likely won’t look anything like the inaugural game more than a hundred years ago. The game itself and the traditions so deeply ingrained into its legacy have evolved with the College.

Courtesy of George J. Mitchell Special Collections
The 1922 Bowdoin men's hockey team played the inaugural game against Colby College.

The first 37 years of Bowdoin-Colby games were played on an outdoor rink. For much of its history, the games were also played on back to back days, with one competition being in Waterville and one in Brunswick. Students would typically travel to both games, which led to increased fan involvement and more intense crowds. Now, the games are usually spread throughout the season and fewer students visit their rival’s home ice.

Courtesy of George J. Mitchell Special Collections
Bowdoin faces Colby on an outdoor rink surrounded by fans.

In the 1950s and ’60s, the Bowdoin-Colby rivalry regarding any sports team was strong, but was especially prominent when it came to hockey. The animosity between the teams extended to the fans, as well, mostly in the terms of chants and the occasional fight.

“I was a first year, and the senior fraternity guys took us up [to Waterville] for a [hockey game],” Professor of Government Christian Potholm ’62 wrote in an email to the Orient. “In the first period, about a dozen Colby guys stormed up the bleachers. A big football player with us waited until they reached us, then knocked the first Colby guy back into the rest of them.”

Bowdoin home games were played in Dayton Arena between 1956 and 2009. According to Secretary of Development and College Relations John Cross ’76, there was wire mesh above the boards in place of plexiglass, which meant that the noise level on the ice was much louder than it currently is. Cross recalled student bands playing “Raise Songs to Bowdoin” when the team took the ice at the beginning of every period and students banging on pots and pans and cheering. Usually, officials threatening fans with bench penalties against the home team seemed to somewhat tame the crowd.

Courtesy of Margot D. Miller
Dayton Arena served as home ice for the men's hockey team from 1956-2009. More seats were available along the ice and it had darker lighting than Sidney J. Watson Arena.

There are stories about various frozen foods and fish being thrown on the ice throughout the decades. Potholm remembers hats being thrown on the ice at random times, and Cross said that in the ’80s, there were a few years when tennis balls would be thrown on the ice after Bowdoin scored a goal.

“I remember it being a ruckus.… One time, when Colby scored, Bowdoin students threw a frozen turkey on the ice,” David Treadwell ’64 said.

With the implementation of plexiglass and the move to Watson arena, many of the fans turned to taunting and chants in the ’90s and 2000s. Music now plays during game stoppages instead of fraternity chants and student bands. However, the academically-minded chants that have been around for decades are still around.

“People would yell, ‘Back-up school’ and ‘Low-SATS’ and all that stuff,” Treadwell said.

The rivalry, although different from years past, is still strong.

“Colby games are just a zoo. It’s always a little louder with Colby. The intensity is turned up. The passion is turned up. You have to beat Colby,” Treadwell said.

This year, Bowdoin implemented an electronic ticketing system for the first time, with alumni, public and student tickets sold out. 725 students reserved tickets throughout the day on Tuesday. Brunswick has not seen a traditional Bowdoin-Colby game in over three years. The 2020-2021 season was canceled due to Covid-19, and the 2022 game last January had restricted fan attendance.

As a first year, defenseman Bobby Pearl ’23 played in the last game unaffected by the pandemic.

“All the older guys were telling us about [playing Colby], and we were watching all the videos and getting pumped up. It lived up to the hype. The entire rink was packed, and it was completely sold out. It was unbelievable,” Pearl said.

While there were some students in attendance in 2022, Pearl said it felt less energetic. He and the rest of the men’s hockey team are looking forward to the game this weekend.

“[This game] means a little more. It’s something you have circled on the calendar. It’s going to be packed,” Pearl said. “We’re excited.”

Doors to Watson arena open at 6 p.m. on Saturday, and puck drop is at 7 p.m. If there is extra space, fans without tickets will be allowed in at 7:15 p.m. The game will also be streamed live by the Northeast Sports Network.


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