Jonathan Kupperman stood anxiously in the never-ending student line at the Mullins Center Friday night, waiting to witness his first ever hockey game in Amherst, Massachusetts. The cold New England rain wasn’t making the wait any better.
Kupperman, a 19 year-old freshman from Los Angeles, was out of his element.
“What’s up with this weather, man? The sun is out and shining one moment, the next it’s freezing and the rain’s coming down.”
Little does Jonathan know, the brisk October air will be the least of his worries when the snow starts flurrying down, come mid-November.
After about a ten or fifteen minute wait, Jonathan entered the friendly confines of the Mullins Center, ready to watch his University of Massachusetts Minutemen take on the third ranked Eagles of Boston College.
Jonathan, the lone Californian out of a group of five all from the northeast, was greeted with a chant from the UMass faithful as he stepped foot into the arena.
“Let’s Go U-MASS!” screamed a packed student section that was awaiting their first glimpse of the 2012- 2013 Minutemen in their home opener, as Jonathan walked up the cement steps, looking for a seat.
Boston College was the first to take the ice. Boos from a ruckus crowd of 7,678 all dressed in maroon, black and white, echoed down from the arena.
After a brief delay, the Minutemen burst onto the ice through a cloud of smoke, as loud cheers for the home team began to out-number the jeers for the opposing conference foe.
A friend of Jonathan’s smiled at him and said with a smirk, “Not in So-Cal anymore are you, Kuppy?”
Kuppy, Jonathan’s nickname growing up in L.A., seemed to be catching on here at college. He simply replied, “No. No, I’m definitely not.”
Jonathan wasn’t used to this type of atmosphere for a hockey game, never mind a college hockey game at that. Out of the 59 Division 1 collegiate hockey teams in the NCAA, there is a total of zero in the state of California. Most schools reside in the northeast or midwest of the country.
There is, however, the Pacific Collegiate Hockey Association, though it is a small division three conference, not comparable to the highly competitive Hockey East, which both UMass and Boston College are members of.
Growing up in Los Angeles, hockey was an after thought for Jonathan and his friends. Instead, it was sports like baseball and soccer that they grew up playing.
“Back in L.A., hockey really isn’t a big deal at all. I’ve always been surrounded with soccer; something me and my friends have always enjoyed playing. I’ve never even skated in my life.”
Luckily for Jonathan, the Mullins Center holds “open skate” in the winter, allowing fans the opportunity to skate the same ice as the Minutemen, something he hopes to accomplish before he heads home for winter break.
As the game progressed into the second period, with the Minutemen enjoying a 2-0 lead, Jonathan witnessed something quite peculiar. With just about ten minutes remaining in the second, the UMass student section broke out in song, deafening the Mullins Center crowd with their own rendition of Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer.”
“That was by far the coolest moment of the night. I thought I was at a concert for a second, not a hockey game,” said Jonathan.
Jonathan’s friends went on to explain that the singing of “Livin’ on a Prayer,” was a UMass hockey tradition. It was comparable to the singing of “Sweet Caroline” during the seventh inning stretch at Fenway Park, or “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” at Wrigley Field in Chicago during a Cubs matinee.
The young man from California was beginning to realize that he made the right choice in coming to UMass.
“I always wanted to go to a big school, where athletics was a huge part of the University. Although the atmosphere wasn’t what I expected, it’s more than what I had hoped for.”
Jonathan had gotten a taste of just how thrilling the sport of hockey can be last summer, when the Los Angeles Kings, led by former UMass goaltender, Jonathan Quick, hoisted the Stanley Cup trophy.
“Hockey hasn’t been really popular in Los Angeles. But now, since the Kings have won the Stanley Cup, people have started to watch hockey and understand the game.”
Although Jonathan hopes that the Kings’ success can help blossom hockey into a popular sport in Los Angeles, one that rivals soccer and baseball, he doesn’t think that will ultimately happen.
“I think the Kings will always take a backseat to the Lakers and Dodgers. Even with the Kings success last year, the Lakers and Dodgers have long-standing traditions that the Kings just don’t really have.”
While the third ranked Eagles eventually came back to top the Minutemen, 5-4 in overtime, it was a worthwhile experience for Jonathan.
When asked if he’ll attend more hockey games in the future, Jonathan responded,
“Of course. I’ve got to be able to explain to my friends back home what all the fuss with college hockey is about.”
It looks like having to experience the ever-changing New England weather didn’t turn out so bad for the kid from southern California.