Columnists, Ice Hockey, Sports

McCARTHY: A call to the ghosts of Walter Brown

What I remember most vividly is the noise.

Walter Brown seated less than 4,000 people, but on some nights, it seemed to be the loudest venue in Boston. The chatter of the consistently sold out crowds would ricochet off the hospital-white cement walls and red iron support beams, smothering everyone inside.

Its underground acoustics and cramped bleacher-style seats allowed for an intimate setting right in line with the original Garden. It was run-down, decrepit and behind-the- times, but it also perfectly embodied the Boston University hockey program that I had grown up with. On a larger scale, it was Boston hockey personified.

Growing up in New England, learning to skate is a rite of passage. Texas has football, Indiana has basketball and Massachusetts has hockey — this is the reality that is ingrained in us from a young age.

For most, the path towards becoming a hockey player in this city is the same. It begins with a milk crate on a pond, and then, at six or seven, the progression continues in the rink. From there, it’s multiple youth leagues, select team tryouts and the same annual tournaments. Ultimately, as our youth career nears its end, the goal becomes playing in the Super 8 and winning a high school state championship.

All the while, we watch NHL games and dream about life in the pros, but always acknowledge that it is a fantasy with no basis in reality. Professional hockey is the world’s game, dominated by Canadians and Europeans. College hockey, however, is something that is truly American; not only that, but the heartbeat of the college game itself is right here, in Boston.

For kids growing up in this city, college hockey isn’t some mythical entity — it is tangible, it is possible.

That’s what made games at Walter Brown so special — it looked, smelled and felt like the hockey rinks I’d grown up with. It was cold, architecturally unimpressive and the seating arrangements were only different in that it had stands on both sides.

However, it wasn’t just the ambience that felt familiar, it was the players as well. Going to games with friends and teammates, we always had the sense that we were watching older versions of ourselves. They were from the same neighborhoods, had practiced at the same rinks, and had played in the same tournaments. We knew their families, recognized their last names, and had seen them play in high school. They were something we aspired to, the pinnacle of the hockey career we had all envisioned for ourselves.

The pedigree of college hockey in Boston speaks for itself.  Hockey East is the best conference in college hockey on an annual basis and nowhere else on the planet is there a tournament as unique and competitive as the Beanpot.

However, in a city that boasts four nationally prominent programs, BU always managed to maintain the reputation of being the pseudo-home team. Not only did the program historically dominate the Beanpot and local rivalries, but it did so with rosters laced with local talent and a style of play uniquely Bostonian.

While BC’s over-hyped and undersized stars predominantly came from Minnesota and the Tri-State area, most of the Terriers hailed from the South Shore and Boston proper.  They were always, at their heart, Boston’s team.

Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, the BU hockey program lost that identity.

Now, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly when this happened, but it seems likely that the move from Walter Brown to the Terriers’ new home was the catalyst.

That being said, do not confuse my logic here. This is not a critique of Agganis Arena itself, nor is this an assault on the shifting recruiting practices of BU head coach Jack Parker. Agganis is a spectacular arena and the run of recent success makes the program nearly immune to criticism.

The point of all of this is to not only remind everyone where this program came from, but to suggest that the school consider a new tradition in order to memorialize the memories of its former home.

For so many people who grew up with BU hockey, it was always more about the players who wore the scarlet and white than the number of banners that were hung. As such, the program needs to embrace its roots and local history, not just by recognizing past titles, but also by retiring the numbers of former Terrier greats.

Travis Roy’s 24 was the first to find itself in the rafters, and deservedly so.  His sacrifice and dedication to the program is unquestioned.

However, he deserves some company in the land of hockey immortality.

Players such as Jack O’Callahan, Mike Eruzione and Chris Drury etched their names in the lore of BU hockey long ago, and have thereby earned their rightful place beside him. Hopefully, in making this gesture to the annals of hockey history, the ghosts of the program’s past will leave Walter Brown and make their home in the new venue.

The walls of the old rink are thick with memories of former Terrier greats. For so many young hockey players in this city, the run-down, cement-laden arena was literally a place where dreams came true. It was where a childhood of hard work paid off, where local kids made good, and where college kids became idols.

It is because of this that BU was unequivocally, at one point in time, Boston’s team.

In order to regain that seemingly lost identity, the program must remember the players who managed to turn dreams into reality.


  1. The heatrbeat is in Minnesota! To get to Boston take a left coming out of the Right ventricale! 🙂

  2. A few thoughts from the Midwest:

    – With all due respect, there are many years when one could argue that the quality of play throughout the WCHA surpasses that of Hockey East.

    – The Beanpot is indeed unique – 4 teams; with one of two winning the bulk of the time. …I believe the last time BC or BU did not win was in 1993.)

    Andrew, you should come watch the Minnesota State High School tournament some time. Its a gas!

  3. Agree with the sentiment, but walk by the Hall of Fame wall…and who do you exclude?

    For the old-timers…some of those names mean a lot and they helped establish the program when every good HS player was going to BC……per priest, coach,& God….or else!

    Travis’ sacrifice was sadly unique, and deserves a lifetime of unique respect.

    Perhaps the scoreboard could give 2-3 minute vignettes of the past Hall of Famers to pass on the history to all in attendance.

  4. The other thing (well at least the way I perceive it) is that the goal for players used to be playing at BU and winning here. Now, it’s a stop on the way to the pros. I’m all for having pro-level talent on our team–I mean, just look at the 2008-2009 team… that worked out well–but the players on the National Championship team were in no rush to get out of here.

    Everyone knew Wilson was leaving after the 2009 season, but it didn’t feel like it throughout the year. There wasn’t a feeling of waiting for him to leave. All the players seemed to love playing for BU and embraced their role representing the university and its hockey history.

    I hate to compare us to Boston College cause they make me want to vomit, but take Chris Kreider: rumors were that the Rangers wanted him to turn pro, but he chose to stay another year at BC.

    The ‘08-‘09 team knew it was special, and they were. This team has a lot of talent, but they don’t have that swagger… we have a team full of NHL prospects, rather than a team of BU players, some of whom will go on to pro careers.

    Sorry for ranting. Nice article though! I’ve always wanted them to play a game a year at Walter Brown… it’d be so cool.

  5. Really love this article. My only gripe is hey, the women’s team still plays at Walter Brown. No they don’t have the history or tradition behind them and no they can’t toss each other into the boards, but those games are still exciting. Every single player wants to be here, to wear Scarlet and White.

    I blame a lot of the recent…weird…atmosphere on the fans. Die hard fans of the sport, in my opinion, should go to the women’s games, too, and they absolutely do not. A lot of fans these days don’t have the passion for the team or for the sport. It’s pretty sad actually. The fans want to see a big goal and a blowout. They don’t appreciate a hard hit or solid defense (I don’t think they know what defense is at all, actually).

    Anyways, a good article and it is appreciated.

  6. You are spot on with the memory of Walter brown. I go back to ’65 as a BU fan and we lost something in moving to The new arena. There is no feel of a hockey game going on at all. I remember going to the last game in the championship season three years ago. We beat Providence 3-0 for the regular season championship. The fans were so quiet I thought I was at the movies. Also there was very poor quality of play that was not the trademark of the college game for the past 40 years that I remember. We used to play European National teams and Olympic teams from time to time. Great action! Great hockey! There are many reasons for the poor play of the team for the past few years. Recruiting is the major problem. When we did not replace Quinn we lost everything. We need a change of coaching and I don’t mean replacing Parker with Bavis as that would be a disaster.

  7. I love going to the women’s games… but the fact that it doesn’t draw the same type of crowd as the men’s team did when they played there makes it a different experience. I’d be thrilled if we could get 4,000 people to fill the place for a women’s game (and so would the team).

    Look at that building go nuts… and that celebration.

    And that… #BeatBC… Tomorrow, 3pm, Walter Brown.