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Rink rat for life

1995 Beanpot stirred my love for college hockey

Posted: Tuesday July 17, 2007 10:56AM; Updated: Tuesday July 17, 2007 5:59PM
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Current NHL star Chris Drury hoisted the Beanpot Trophy (here, in 1998 after beating Harvard), just one of many pieces of hardware he has collected.
Current NHL star Chris Drury hoisted the Beanpot Trophy (here, in 1998 after beating Harvard), just one of many pieces of hardware he has collected.
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By Lisa Altobelli

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Growing up in a Massachusetts town where Eddie Shore ("Old Time Hockey") ran the local rink, my father and his crew from the neighborhood became Shore's disciples. They cleaned the rink after games in exchange for all the free ice time Shore would allow. Dubbed the Rink Rats, they went off to skate for college teams, but returned to Springfield, where they still meet daily at Memo's coffee shop across the street from the old arena. Whenever I tagged along, I was immersed in tales of collegiate hockey lore long before I could see over the countertop.

My dad stood between the pipes for Michigan State in the 1950s without a helmet, which is probably why I was told to "walk it off" through every bump, bruise and bloody wound life could dish out. But it was his cigar-chomping coach who always had the best stories.

Amo "Betts" Bessone was behind the Spartans bench for 31 seasons and his anecdotes always detailed the desire, heart and appetite (a literal reference to his team's legendary spaghetti suppers) of his young players. When I told him I had decided to attend Boston University, he was excited for the mere fact that coach Jack Parker would give me some games to see. The Terriers had future NHL players Chris Drury, Mike Grier and Jay Pandolfo and they would go on to win the national championship my freshman year. But the event that really resonated was my first Beanpot -- the tournament in which BU, BC, Northeastern and Harvard face off for Boston bragging rights on the first two Mondays in February.

By the luck of a lottery, we scored seats on the glass. We flinched as the opening check dumped a cold Coke from the ledge onto my floormate's lap. BU defeated Northeastern in the semifinals and a 16-by-11 photo of our foursome ended up in the Boston Herald the next day above the headline "Toughest Ticket in Town." For the championship, I brought my dad and his best friend, a former defenseman from Northeastern, who was placated by a 4-2 win over Harvard in the consolation game.

The main event showcased a rivalry that started in 1918 when BU and BC first faced off on ice. It was fast, furious and bloody. Pandolfo sliced open his hand when an Eagle tried to kick the puck -- a laceration that took 30 stitches to close despite my Dad's assertion he would "walk it off."

BU ended up winning 5-1 for its 18th Beanpot title, and long after everyone departed, I found myself fixated on the ice. It was my last time in the Boston Garden before it was torn down that year, but for all the Celtic Pride and Big Bad Bruins games I had seen in the old place, none came close to the atmosphere and pure fun of that tournament.

Since then, I've sat with the old crew at the coffee shop, and while I'll never officially be a Rink Rat, I finally understood what they were talking about.

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