“We see them in our sleep.”
This is how Ben Smith, Coach of the 1998 U.S. women’s hockey team, described the team’s Canadian rivals in an interview with the New York Times leading up to their Olympic matchup.
It’s fair to guess that some Bowdoin hockey players may spend tonight similarly fixated on an opponent from the North, though the rival in question is Colby, not Canada. Today the Polar Bears will defend the first of last year’s decisive victories over the Mules. The rivalry between the two teams is a classic grudge match, and this year’s games continue a long and storied tradition.
The first Bowdoin-Colby matchup was in 1922, and since then, the rivalry has only grown. Bowdoin currently leads the series 105-87-8.
Over the past 91 years, legendary players, incredible play and passionate crowds on both sides of the rink have all defined the experience of a Bowdoin-Colby game. This weekend’s games promise to continue this excitement, an atmosphere built over the course of 200 games.
Will there be a miraculous overtime Bowdoin goal reminiscent of Jordan Lalor’s ’12 NESCAC quarterfinal game winner in 2010? Or maybe a simpler game, more along the lines of the less-remembered 1923 exhibition, a match Bowdoin won 3-2? Regardless, the tension will be palpable in Watson arena on Saturday as the Polar bears face-off with the mules for the 202nd time.
According to Head Coach Terry Meagher, this rivalry really took off in the mid-1950s, when indoor rinks at both colleges changed the crowd dynamic.
“It was looked at as a night out, and entertainment. They had warm rinks, not dingy old outdoor rinks,” Meagher said.
This change of venue drew bigger crowds, amplified their cheers, and intensified the whole experience. DeAlva Stanwood Alexander Professor of Government Christian Potholm ’62 confirmed the significance of the game for ’50s-era Bowdoin students.
“It really was one of the central events of the year. The Colby-Bowdoin hockey game was very important,” said Potholm.
Some things never change. Potholm described his first visit to Colby’s arena in 1958, which began when a senior in his fraternity told him to sit on the top level. Potholm heeded the recommendation, thinking his brother was merely trying to ensure him the best vantage point.
He would soon learn, however, that his friend had been trying to ward him away from the most violent and rambunctious fans, who often frequented the lower levels. But even the higher-up seats, Potholm was not exempt from the raucous fighting between students that often took place at these games.
His story ended when the football player next to him punched a marauding Colby fan. The same enthusiastic player returned to Bowdoin after the game for a hearty, well deserved meal of seven or eight pork chops, served to him by the fraternity steward.
Over the years this fan-on-fan conflict developed into conflict between fans and the ice itself. Throwing debris onto the rink became a regular part of cheering, with fans from both sides choosing to arm themselves with grilled cheese, fish, and nuts, in preparation for a big game.
“I would like to ask that all Bowdoin Hockey fans refrain from throwing debris on the ice,” wrote senior captain Jim Klapam in a letter to the Orient in 1993.
An opinion piece by Craig Cheslog ’93 that appeared in the same issue echoed Klapam’s request, implying that the practice was childish and should be left to Colby students.
“Why are you trying to emulate Colby students?” he wrote.
Ultimately, Cheslog’s and Klapam’s voices were heard, and the rivalry has since mellowed somewhat. Recent games have been defined more by competitive play and exuberant cheering than by bleacher antics like fights and fish.
Meagher applauded the current state of the rivalry, and said he believes it has its roots not in hatred, but rather in the deep sense of respect between the two teams and schools.
This year’s games promise to continue that tradition of healthy competition, and a glance at both teams’ rosters reveals an interesting new variable: sibling rivalry. Chris Fenwick ’16 will skate for Bowdoin Friday and Saturday, facing off against his younger brother, a first year at Colby and a new addition to the Mules’ lineup. Regardless of what jersey Fenwick’s parents decide to wear, Bowdoin-Colby hockey promises to once again be a fiery, loud affair.