This was my first chance since last February to pay a visit to one of my favorite places, Baker Rink (officially Hobey Baker Memorial Rink) on the campus of Princeton University. This is my tenth season of obsessively following the women's ice hockey team, and they had their first pair of home games. Last night they tied RPI 2-all, and just this afternoon they outlasted Union College 6-3.
Normally I like to get to the rink early. There are never too many people there, but about an hour before game time there are very few. Sometimes you see members of the opposing team running sprints down the corridors. The music is already on the P.A. system, usually of the classic-rock variety. A few of the Tiger players liked to come out on the bench, iPods tucked into their ears, to get whatever motivation it gave them, but those players have graduated and there don't seem to be any that do that this year.
The teams come out for warm-up at precisely forty minutes before the opening face-off. They go through their shooting and passing drills. Sometimes I sit right behind the goal during shooting practice, and the crash of the puck against the glass would wake the dead. After warm-ups the freshmen are the ones who have to collect all the pucks and bring them back to the bench.
Ice rinks have a certain smell to them. I think it may be the chlorine in the ice, because it's reminiscent of the odor found in swimming pools. It's a very comforting smell, and since the temperature is cool (by necessity) it can be the first taste of winter.
Baker Rink is named after Hobey Baker, who was an outstanding football and hockey player for Princeton in the 1910s. His skates, looking like they were dug out of a peat bog, are on display in a glass case in the lobby of the rink. Baker was an innovator, being the first to round the tips of his blades so he could pivot and circle much more effectively. He was an airman during World War I and died in a crash during a test flight. Just a few feet away from his display is one for Patty Kazmaier, who played during the 1980s. The daughter of Dick Kazmaier, who won the Heisman Trophy for Princeton in the early 50s, she was a big-time women's player when women's hockey was as obscure as could be. She died from a rare blood disease at the age of thirty. Even though Princeton is not a big hockey school, they have the distinction of both trophies bestowed in college hockey named after their players. The best men's player of the year wins the Hobey Baker Award, and the best women's player gets the Patty Kazmaier Award.
Baker Rink has been around since the 1920s. From the outside it looks like a church, fitting in with the Gothic architecture of the campus. The main doors are huge wooden ones that Martin Luther would be proud to nail his theses to. At night you can see through the glass doors from outside and see the scoreboard, which hangs above center ice, lit up like a Christmas tree. The inside of the rink is more suggestive of a barn, with the rafters painted a rustic brown. It's extremely cozy--the stands on either side of the rink only go back four rows. The ends have a few more rows, and there's a balcony that goes mostly empty that hangs over one end. If you go all the way to the top of the balcony you can't see the opposite goal.
As for this year's team, they are young and a bit undisciplined, but have a lot of talent. Unlike previous years, when a 2-1 game was an avalanche of scoring, this team can put the puck in the net. Unfortunately, the goaltending is inexperienced. If the goalies gel, this team could do some damage. No matter, I'll be going to the games. It's a pleasure just to visit old Hobey Baker Rink.