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'Battle of Comm. Ave.' profiles BC-BU rivalry

by John McGourty
The No. 1 rule in entertainment is "know the room," and it's that awareness that makes the film "The Battle of Comm. Ave.," about the hockey rivalry between Boston College and Boston University a must-have for all New England hockey fans. Actually, anyone who loves great hockey, hockey history and a well-made film will want to see this timely 2009 production.

Boston University is the reigning NCAA champion, having succeeded the 2008 champions, Boston College, who also won the crown in 2001.

Boston University also won in 1995. Since 1991, when Boston University lost one of the greatest college hockey games ever played, an 8-7, triple-overtime NCAA championship game to Northern Michigan, either Boston University or Boston College has appeared in the NCAA championship game 11 times in 19 years.

"The Battle of Comm. Ave." will debut on the NHL Network Friday, March 5, at 7 p.m. ET. It can be seen again at 5:30 p.m. ET on Saturday and 3 a.m. ET on Monday.

The title refers to Commonwealth Avenue, the broad boulevard that runs from the downtown Public Garden past Boston University, past Boston College and out to the western suburbs. The famed "Heartbreak Hill" of the Boston Marathon peaks at Boston College on Comm. Ave. A trolley line serves both schools.

Producer Matt Fults does a great job of digging into the roots of the rivalry that started with the coaching battles between BU's Harry Cleverly and BC's John "Snooks" Kelley in the 1940s and continues to this day with BU's Jack Parker competing with BC's Jerry York. York and Parker grew up in blue-collar Boston suburbs and played for the schools they now coach.

The disdain each side holds for the other is captured perfectly. Parker notes the schools' widely disparate cultures and student demographics. As someone who grew up in the Boston area, I remember the Boston College view was that Boston University was a bunch of second-rate Canadian hockey players carpetbagging American college scholarships and funded by an out-of-state student body. From BU's perspective, Boston College was populated by kids not smart enough to get into BU.

Kelley's refusal to recruit Canadians led to a long period of BU dominance, culminating in the Terriers' three NCAA championships in the 1970s. "The Battle of Comm. Ave." explains how the construction of BC's Conte Forum made "The Heights" more attractive to recruits and forced BU to counter with its state-of-the-art Agganis Arena.

Is the rivalry still hot?

Mike Eruzione, BU '77 and captain of the gold-medal 1980 U.S. Olympic Team, took pains to note that there were no Eagles on the "Miracle" team. Then he admitted BC didn't recruit him.

BU didn't recruit Scott Clemmensen, part of BC's goalie tandem with Tim Kelleher when the Eagles won the NCAA title in 2001.

"That put BU on the short list of teams I wanted to stick it to," Clemmensen said.

"It's pretty simple," said Keith Tkachuk. "BC didn't want me. I always held a grudge against them."

"We played to hurt each other. We really did," admitted Jack O'Callahan, Eruzione's teammate at BU and on the "Miracle" team.

"I don't think it could be more intense," Parker said.

Although they are among the oldest NCAA hockey programs, Boston College and Boston University have met only once in the championship. BU prevailed 5-3 in 1978 at Providence, R.I. O'Callahan, the BU captain then, remembered sitting in Parker's office when former Eagles' coach Len Ceglarski called.

"Jack told Len BU wanted to wear home colors and Len said BC did, too," O'Callahan said. "Parker said, "Let's flip a coin. I've got one right here. I'm flipping it, call it. Heads? No, it's tails. See ya there.' And, Jack hung up!"

The coaches set the tone; the players bring it to the ice.

"A bunch of dirty old New England kids going at it hard every night," former BU and NHL forward Tony Amonte said.

Several players said the allegiances are handed down from their fathers. Amonte remembered his father having a heart attack at one of his high school games. When he was taken to the emergency room, Lewis Amonte told his wife, "If I die, make sure Tony goes to BC." He lived -- and Tony went to BU.

"BU was a better fit for me, although my dad wanted me to go to BC," said three-time Stanley Cup winner Jay Pandolfo, who had a brother and cousin follow him to BU.

Scott "Shag" Shaughnessy, BU '87, has a hilarious moment when he describes how the BC fight song, "For Boston," drives him crazy. If BU had a half-decent fight song, it might not be so bad but BC's is right up there with Notre Dame and Wisconsin, one of the best.

"I hate that fight song," Shaughnessy said. "... I just want to hit something ... that stupid song."

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