Built for Speed

Built for Speed

The puck is intercepted, then flipped to a teammate. He cradles it through a long graceful arc, then slices between a pair of defenders and streaks toward the opposing goal. Enemies bear down and prevent a shot, so, as he passes the net, he floats the puck backward into the slot, hoping a friendly stick will find it first. And then, for all his trouble, he’s crushed into the corner boards with a loud thunk and a groan from the crowd.

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The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven

Some sports are best viewed from a couch or a barstool. Hockey isn’t one of them. A recent game at Ingalls Rink, a.k.a. The Whale, where a packed house watched the Yale Bulldogs take on the visiting Quinnipiac Bobcats, exemplified an important reason why: In this brutal ballet, even the least consequential moments are totally gripping.

This being my first live hockey experience in a long time, I kept feeling shocked by how intense the action was. But it shouldn’t have been surprising. The puck is built to zoom from one end of the ice to the other in a split second, and the players can’t be far behind if they want to win. By necessity, then, the gameplay shifts quickly and radically. Nobody on the ice, or for that matter in the stands, can relax. In a matter of seconds, a player or two might break away, the breakaway might get broken up, a scrum might break out. One pass out of the last dozen might be a little too hard or wide, and there flies the puck, along with the action, in the opposite direction. Seeing it live, you can really appreciate how much each player is doing, even just to control that three-inch rubber disk.

Fans do get to zone out between periods. Zamboni drivers, occasionally waving at friends, regulars or kids who probably waved first, loop slowly around the ice and buff it to a mirror shine. (The Zambonis are such fixtures that local businesses run ads on them.) Attendees who aren’t transfixed might take the opportunity to hit the concession stand or the restrooms. Pump-up jams plucked from the past 30 or 40 years—from Van Halen’s “Jump” to Jeremih’s “Don’t Tell ’Em”—fill in the blanks.

Because the two campuses aren’t even eight miles apart, and because the Bulldogs—who’ve lost more often than not over the years—bested the Bobcats for the 2013 Division I men’s national championship, Yale-Quinnipiac is a true hockey rivalry. Some call it “The Battle of Whitney Avenue,” referring to the fact that Whitney Avenue accounts for almost all the physical distance between the schools.

Naturally, fans at this game shouted in lament (or relief) after near-misses, commiserated over rough body checks and roared when the puck found a way into the net. After Bobcat Alex Whelan notched a tying goal late in the second period—Quinnipiac’s first score of the night—he flew over to the away side of the rink and locked eyes with the jubilant crowd, punching the glass in celebration.

And why not? He’d really had to earn that goal. The game was tight and tense all the way through. In white and blue, Yale scored first, less than a minute in. In blue and gold, Quinnipiac eventually got two in a row, taking the lead early in the final period. And just when things were looking grim, Yale struck back with less than three minutes to go, setting up a sudden-death overtime. The promise of highest hockey drama, however, was short-lived. Just 18 seconds in, Quinnipiac scored and the game was over, 3-2.

Did I mention hockey is a fast sport?

Quinnipiac 3, Yale 2 (OT)
February 7, 2020 at Ingalls Rink – 73 Sachem St, New Haven
Yale Men’s Hockey | Quinnipiac Men’s Hockey

Written and photographed by Dan Mims.

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