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BC, BU rivalry ratchets up at Fenway

by Bob Snow
Last Friday afternoon, the 2010 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic showcased the Bruins and Flyers at Fenway Park. Come Friday night at 7:30 p.m. ET, the 248th battle in the classic rivalry between Boston College and Boston University -- the last two national champions -- takes place at Fenway -- the first outdoor college game in the modern era of New England hockey. 

At 4 p.m. ET, the women's teams from Northeastern and New Hampshire play in the first women's outdoor game.

Only two other such outdoor games have been played in NCAA history. "The Cold War" between Michigan State and Michigan in 2001 before 74,554 in Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, and the "Frozen Tundra Classic" in 2006 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisc., between Ohio State and Wisconsin with 40,890 in the stands.

The first ended in a 2-2 tie; the latter a 4-2 victory for the host Badgers.

Only that Michigan-Michigan State and the Minnesota-North Dakota rivalries come close to the fan fervor and player passion associated with each meeting of BC and BU, schools separated by three miles of trolley tracks along Commonwealth Avenue, and headed for 100 years of hockey history. The Terriers hold a 123-107-17 edge in the series that began in 1917.

"I don't think it can be anymore intense," BU's legendary coach Jack Parker said about the rivalry when interviewed on the recently produced DVD, "The Battle of Comm. Ave." that has saturated the airwaves of the popular New England Sports Network (NESN). 

Both Parker and BC's Jerry York are entrenched in the legacy of these two programs as alums and former players -- often against each other.

"I think it's just as intense when I was a sophomore in college in 1966," Parker said.

"It's a blood rivalry in the best and worst sense of the word," York said. "In Michigan, it's Michigan State. In Boston it's these two rivals."

No shortage of like sentiments well beyond both coaches.

"One of the words I use very rarely is 'hate,' said Steve Nazro, vice president of events at the TD Bank Garden and director of the annual Beanpot Tournament played there. "I really think there is athletic hate."

"When one team is playing well and has bragging rights," said legendary Boston hockey writer John "Jocko" Connolly of the Boston Herald, "the other team wants to knock them off that pedestal. It's like two heavyweights going jaw-to-jaw trying to knock each other's head off. All their hearts beat as one on each team. It brings out the boiler-plate passion in everybody -- the fans, players, coaches, rink attendants, Zamboni drivers."

"When you stepped onto the ice against BC it was a totally different mindset," said Mike Eruzione who played on the 1978 BU national championship team before captaining the 1980 U.S. Olympic team to gold in Lake Placid. 

"We're approaching this hundreds years of holy war," said Bernie Corbett, BU hockey historian and radio play-by-play analyst. "It doesn't seem to get older or diminish its passion or excitement. We take it for granted here and we shouldn't."

Why such deep-seated and heated emotions?

"We recruit the same players and the fact that they'll be around Boston the rest of their lives," said Parker.

"Kids that grew up in Boston that played against each other," said Eruzione who hails from nearby Winthrop. "[And] Kids that didn't get recruited by the other school or decided to go to the other school."

"Both claim an astonishing 800 wins," said veteran broadcaster Mike Emrick -- who called the Winter Classic last week on NBC and contributed to the DVD -- about York and Parker who rank No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, in all-time career wins. "Both attribute the culture of their program's success, in part, to those who coached before them."

"I think that there's really almost like a passing of the torch, not only with players, but behind the bench," said Connolly about the symmetry woven throughout the rivalry's history. "BU has had three great coaches in the last 40 years in Harry Cleverly, then Jack Kelley. Now you have Jack Parker. Similarly, you look at BC with 'Snooks' Kelley, Lenny Ceglarski and Jerry York."

"What's at stake," asked Corbett about any game between the last two national champions, and especially the first one of the New Year and decade on Jan. 8. "Often times, there's a great deal at stake."

For one, those ultimate bragging rights for many years to come.

And the proverbial two points -- in a game that will kick-start the second-half of the season for each team, especially BU. 

The Terriers (5-9-3) have yet to find rhythm in the 2009-10 season after winning a fifth national title last April. The Eagles (10-5-2) have climbed back to their customary top-10 national rank off a slow start and lackluster campaign last season after winning their third title in 2008.

Friday night's game will have a national-championship-game aura as the 2008 and 2009 champions meet in one of their most unique games and settings in Boston and NCAA history. 

On Campus Clips -- Victors of the Division I holiday-tournament final games the past two weekends include: In the Florida Estero Classic, Maine took down Colorado College, 3-2. ... In The Great Lakes Invitational, Michigan State trounced Rensselaer, 6-1. ... The UConn Hockey Classic had the Bentley Falcons -- with one of the biggest upsets of the season thus far -- taking out Massachusetts, 4-1. ... In the Denver Cup in Denver, host Denver rallied to topple Boston College, 4-3. ... The Dodge Holiday Classic tournament was won by Northern Michigan, 4-2, over Minnesota. ...  The Catamount Cup was won by host Vermont, 5-2, over Minn.-Duluth. ... The Shillelagh Tournament in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, had Niagara over Colgate, 5-2. ... The Badger Showdown had surging Ferris State, 5-1, over Merrimack. ... The Ledyard Bank Classic in Hanover, N.H., was won by Northeastern over UMass-Lowell, 2-1.

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