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Wisconsin on the ice: hullabaloo!
Dan Levin
February 19, 1973
At the University of Wisconsin they play a wild kind of hockey. Enter Madison's Dane County Coliseum on game night and, as events progress, ask yourself these questions: Is this a sport or is it Armageddon? Where is the real action, on the ice or in the stands? Do the laws of physics apply or are those visiting players actually shrinking before your very eyes?
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February 19, 1973

Wisconsin On The Ice: Hullabaloo!

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Dennis Olmstead says, "I shouldn't be able to skate all out for more than a minute but all that screaming gets my mind off the fatigue."

And Amo Bessone says, "It was kind of mild tonight. You should see it when they lead all the way." And that is Wisconsin hockey. There are reasons.

In the first third of this century all the big-college hockey teams came to Madison but Wisconsin's rink was outdoors then, the weather was undependable and the sport died. From 1935 to 1963 the university had no hockey but no one seemed to care. Collegiate boxing was very popular in those years, and Wisconsin was the biggest boxing school of all, winning eight NCAA championships between 1939 and 1956. Then in 1960 tragedy struck; a popular senior named Charles Mohr was knocked out one night and died a week later. Wisconsin dropped boxing; other colleges followed suit.

In the meantime a wealthy hockey nut named Fenton Kelsey Jr. had built an outdoor hockey rink. In the fall of 1963 the university began to play hockey there but the seating capacity was only 2,500 and the attendance averaged only 596 per game. There were two part-time coaches, one a criminal lawyer named John Riley. Even so the team finished with an 8-5-3 record.

In 1966 the university hired Johnson, then coach at Colorado College. Johnson brought 10 players with him that he had been eyeing for his former school. He told them something big was about to happen at Wisconsin, and four years later six of them, then seniors, played for Wisconsin in the NCAA championships. And now for six straight seasons Johnson's teams have won 20 games or more. At home he is doing just as well. His 15-year-old son Mark has played in national tournaments the last two years. Peter, 13, was in the national Pee Wee championship two years ago.

Johnson says, "When kids like that get some more competition, we're gonna be in good shape. We haven't even scratched the surface in the U.S. for hockey yet. The day will come when half the kids in the NHL will be from south of the border." At the University of Wisconsin, nine of Johnson's 19 regulars already are.

Wisconsin's football team was doing poorly when Johnson arrived, and a lot of people in Madison were beginning to miss boxing. But as John Riley says, "Now they were getting another sport that combined science, speed and violence. Besides, people were hungry to see that big W go up in the win column again."

In the early spring of 1967 the Dane County Coliseum was opened. The university rented it for hockey. It looked like an immense carnival tent from the outside, pleasantly striped in blue and white. Inside, the seats were padded and they soon began to fill. "This is no dirty deepfreeze with smelly washrooms like most hockey facilities," Riley says. When Bob Johnson is recruiting players he often has to do little more than lead them into the Coliseum and say, "Look."

Now Wisconsin had its formula for hockey success: a way to attract all the old boxing fans in town (who sometimes forget they're at a hockey game), Wisconsin winners, and the classiest place around to watch them in.

There was something else: Wisconsin's reputation for political activism. On August 24, 1970 the school's math research center was bombed. "The last blow of the radical movement," says Jeff Grossman, sports editor of the university's radical Daily Cardinal. Nothing comparable has happened in the movement since on any campus, and there are many angry young men without an outlet. Says Grossman: "Most of us find no conflict in supporting a team." He admits that lots of seats at Dane Coliseum are currently being filled by former demonstrators. Especially in section CC2.

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