Four Score, and several years later

So it was that the fourth anniversary of your blogging/Tweeting heroes is met with the agony of a 5-3 defeat at the Mullins Center for the UMass hockey team, in front of literally dozens of fans in a driving snowstorm. The program is in a much different place than it was that fateful night four years ago tonight when I pulled up WordPress on my desktop in North A 309A and started writing my very first post. UMass was in the midst of what looked like a promising season, one which naturally fell apart for them pretty quickly. FBS football was a distant dream. UMass baskettaball was an abortion circus on the court. My time at UMass was coming to a close, and I wanted to have something to keep me tied to the university community.

Four years later, I live and work with my Twitter cowriter, I’ve been to dozens of games home and away, driven halfway across the country twice, experienced the finest hockey barns, college towns, and beer havens Hockey East has to offer. We’ve met lots of fun people along the way, made our fair share of internet enemies and, in most cases, frenemies. Fight Mass has been a major part of my life, and Matt’s life, and we’re both eternally grateful to the experience, warts and all. Thanks for being part of the ride, and here’s to more good times ahead. Hoops is ranked and unbeaten, football is in FBS and (we can only hope) on its way to not being a national laughingstock once our coach has a full array of recruits and scholarships as his disposal. Hockey, despite tonight’s roadblock, is coming off the program’s first-ever(!!!) three-game road winning streak, and for whatever reason, finally starting to buy in and play with a sense of pride. That includes the much-maligned seniors, whose apathy is at least understandable if still not exactly excusable, and so we remain hopeful for a strong second half against a somewhat less-intimidating conference slate. Happy days indeed, not the happiest days yet, but happy.

That sappy sentimental bullcrap aside, I’ll take this opportunity to deliver the previously-promised gallery and rundown of our trip to South Bend and Chicago, including a writeup for the new Travelogue section. Enjoy, and we’ll see you on the Twitter machine for tomorrow night’s showdown in Athens.

———

Travelogue: South Bend, IN (Notre Dame)

The Setting: So South Bend appears to be two different entities. In the first, the quintessential (Matt went so far as to call it the most quintessential) college campus, with rustic (albeit repetitive) architecture, sprawling quads, the famous landmarks. Encircled by strip malls seemingly stuck in the 80s, the Notre Dame campus is an oasis of college classicism.

And then there’s the entire everything else around it. Like I said, everything around the campus is the strip malliest of strip malls. Downtown South Bend, a quick jaunt down the road, sounded promising based on my experiences in classic midwest college towns like Ann Arbor and Madison. Sadly, there is nothing in downtown South Bend that remotely resembles either of those meccas. In fact, I’m tempted to say there is nothing in downtown South Bend, period. After Friday’s game, our only full night in town, we were planning on hitting up the best-reviewed Yelp bar in town, the Fiddler’s Hearth, for what we envisioned as a classier McMurphy’s with a better taplist and classic Irish food. Instead, we walked into a cramped saloon with nothing more interesting than Smuttynose (hey, we have that here!) on tap and but a single TV over the bar. I’m sure the food was fine, but that wasn’t the scene we were seeking, so we left the car nearby (after all, we figured it would be harder to get a parking spot where all the bars are!) and walked a half-mile through the freezing cold to…well, where were we going again? A cursory glance of the local spots revealed that most of the businesses were closed already (?!) and the few spots that were open? The best we found was some redneck bar with indoor smoking and pool tables, no good beer and no people. We assumed the students were all just away on break already? (They weren’t, we later learned.) I feel like even the tumbleweeds were afraid to come out. The desertedness of the town was so severe that we began to wonder if Manti Te’o may have imagined more than just his girlfriend.

The one saving grace, if you can even call it that, is the little shopping/apartment development that we later discovered over near the campus, which looks like it was put up in the past five years, leaving us to wonder what the fuck people did for fun before that. We did manage to find a relatively nice beer bar to enjoy my midnight birthday, and there appeared to be one or two bars in the more collegey vein with actual patrons, but still. Maybe things are different on football gamedays when people are all out on the town and out drinking (protip: I was here twice in my high school days with my ND family members, and though I couldn’t drink, the atmosphere is infinitely more festive around the campus). But as far as college towns are concerned, this is among the worst. (But, you know, Chicago is like an hour and a half away. So there’s that.)

The Venues: Most relevantly to UMass, Notre Dame joining Hockey East is a big boost for the league’s already-impressive collection of venues. Compton Family Ice Arena is a very different beast from what we’re used to, given the mish-mash of adorable small-time venues (MC/PC), classic barns (UVM/ME/NU), and mid-range but respectable sites like our own, Conte, Tsongas and the like. Compton, I suppose, can best be described as mixing the best of the two actually-in-Boston venues, with the shiny amenities and luster of Agganis coupled with the intimacy and balcony of Matthews. Our seats in the balcony to the left of the press box were probably among the “worst” seats in the house, and even those provided a very good view of the rink. The locals were loud and boisterous, though the student section wasn’t really distinctive like in, say, Matthews or Alfond. Overtaking them, of course, is the new best band in Hockey East (until we start playing at games, of course). The Band of the Fighting Irish is awesome, leading some classic (if derivative) college hockey chants and playing a good mix of new and old songs, in addition to the iconic fight song after every goal. The goal horn is a little jarring to hear on TV, but sounds much cooler in person than it does on TV, and probably jumps into 2nd place after Maine on the all-important Hockey East Goal Horn Power Rankings. The most impressive thing about the arena to us was the staff, which is far and away the most friendly and accommodating in Hockey East. It’s not saying much, between the completely ambivalent staffs of Northeastern, Merrimack and our own, to the aggressively unfriendly UNH/UVM/BC staffs and the draconian BU folks. But the charming old men and women of Compton never missed an opportunity to thank us for making the trip, catapulting them ahead of the friendly folks of Maine and Lowell in the welcoming rankings. The locals were nothing but friendly, too, even after UMass pulled off the upset Saturday. In fact, Matt, noted Notre Dame hater extraordinaire, came to the only logical conclusion there can be based on how friendly everyone was: if you hate Notre Dame, you’ve clearly never been. The people here are awesome. It’s the bandwagon fans in the Northeast (and elsewhere) who have no ties whatsoever to the school who root for it “cuz I’m Irish kehd and the feckin leprechaaaahn and go Irish kehd” who project all the suck that people these days associate with ND. Those people should suffer a horrible snake-related fate. Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, A+ venue, for sure, and one Hockey East is lucky to have now.

Other venues in the area include the newly-renovated Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center, which looks like a very swell, very blue place to watch a basketball game, and that one football stadium I guess or whatever. I’ve been to Notre Dame Stadium a few times in the past thanks to my ND alumni family members brainwashing me at a young age, but it will obviously be a treat if we get a chance to come back here and watch UMass lose by 40 probably win somehow, thereby ruining Notre Dame’s season because I’ve seen more of that in my lifetime. But it really is great to see a classic football stadium with zero outside advertising outside of a single NBC Sports logo, no logos, just rows and rows of seats. It’s not as impressive as the Big House, but it’s iconic as hell and something all sports fans should see once in their lifetime. We’ll be back for you, Notre Dame Stadium.

Best Food: We weren’t in town long enough to make a good determination about this. However, consider this: Compton sells hockey helmet-shaped souvenir popcorn bowls.

Best Beer: So after our first night, where we settled on The Mark, a gastropub with a solid beer list but not much atmosphere, we did discover a few places the next day that had much better draft lists than anything downtown. We didn’t end up going to O’Rourke’s (also in that same little shopping plaza!) but it looked like a solid choice. Ultimately, we ended up watching UMass-BYU hoops at Legends of Notre Dame, which we initially dismissed as what we figured was a memorabilia shop, then realized was a bar/restaurant, and then upon taking a gamble, we got lucky with a killer beer list and $4 drafts of local craft (Three Floyds, Bells, and the like). The food there was mediocre – I enjoyed my sandwich enough but Matt had “the worst reuben he’s ever had” so let’s call it a draw – but the hospitality, cheap beer specials, and access to watch our game on a busy day (the overflow crowds from a day’s worth of basketball games showed up) made it the best choice.

Of course, as the pictures would profess, our biggest score in the state of Indiana was in Munster, IN, just outside of Chicago on the Illinois border, at the legendary Three Floyds Brewpub. Three Floyds is borderline Alchemist-status out there, only it never got destroyed, is in an infinitely more urban location, and makes more than one kind of beer now. But the hype factor is on par, and I would say the beer is, too. Their self-proclaimed flagship beer is the Alpha King, a solid pale ale, but their most famous offering in the beer world is their Zombie Dust, one of the finest beers either of us have ever had the pleasure of tasting. We bought a case because of course we did, and it’s a must-try if you’re able to get out there. Other offerings, such as the seasonal Alpha Klaus and the scotch ale Robert the Bruce, were quality choices as well. Chicago was a wonderful time for the brief 24 hours or so we got to spend there, and if you’re even remotely into craft beer, go here and have your mind blown, and come back and thank us later.

 

Alright, yay, we have enough of these things to open up a new page for them. Keep an eye out for a few more over the intersession break. In the meantime, thanks again for continuing to read the blog and Twitter. We love you all. <3

- Max

 

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