LONGSHOTS: A guide for having fun on NCAA hockey weekend
by Dave Long
The weekend hockey folks have been waiting for is upon us as the NCAA Hockey Tournament rolls into town Saturday. It kicks off at 1 p.m. in the Verizon Wireless (plug, plug) Arena when UNH and Miami of Ohio square off in game one and is followed by Boston College and Saint Lawrence in the nightcap.
It is the second time the national event has come to town. The last time was in 2004, when, UNH got bounced by Michigan in front of 10,104 at the V, and Michigan in turn got bounced by number-one seed BC in a 3-2 overtime thriller. Hopefully it will be as exciting this time where many are hoping the U gets another crack at the Eagles after they lost to them in the Hockey East final last Saturday.
However, Iím not here to dissect and analyze the hockey. That would be as informative as hearing the president explain why the surge is a good idea. Instead, for an event bringing hockey types from around the country to see the best the collegiate game has to offer, hereís a visitorsí guide to navigating Manchester when the games are not going on:
The Visitors Bureau: If you get confused, call the Visitors Bureau, though a simpler way would be asking anyone for info. Weíre all willing to help, even pro-actively if need be. Like if we meet folks from Alabama-Huntsville wandering Elm looking for the arena. Weíll politely say their guys are actually playing in Grand Rapids this weekend. Even though legend has it they learned to play on frozen ponds behind the old soybean patch in Huntsville, thatís probably something that might happen to fans from the hockey hotbed of Alabama. So if youíre talking hockey as youíre putting them in a cab for the airport, stay away from stuff like the fact that Hobey Baker came from St. Paulís School just up the road in Concord. You might try bringing up Ben Roethlisberger instead. Iím sure folks from football-crazy íbama will know he learned motorcycle safety at fourth-seed Miami of Ohio. One thing I do know: at 13-19-3, odds-makers in Manch-Vegas have them the tourney long shot.
Landmarks to see: Youíve got to go the Backroom in the North End. It might be tough to get in, though, as itís the embodiment of Yogi Berraís famous line, ďNobody goes there anymore, itís too crowded.Ē Chances are, like most out-of-towners, youíll just see a packed restaurant and miss that itís really our town square. And if youíre a baseball fan too, check out the story on the wall in the waiting area from 1958 where Ty Cobb tells a local scribe baseball needs to go back to the dead ball era. Itís worth the visit by itself.
Thatís about it, as weíre not real big on landmarks. Although you could try Joe Kellyís on Elm. They serve pizza and grinders/subs/hoagies/hero sandwiches and are worth the trip. Plus if youíre real lucky, you might see owner Joe Levasseur on his soap box ranting on about his nasty political fight/vendetta with a fellow by the name of Ray (pass the) Buckley. Joeís the former alderman once banned from the Arena for behavior at a hockey game, where he acted, well, pretty much like heís currently acting in his Hatfield and McCoy squabble with Mr. Buckley. Itís just the kind of thing the Conventions Bureau wants on the front page when visitors come to town.
Where to go before Saturdayís game: Try J.W. Hills. Itís two blocks north on Elm from the Arena and the Radisson. The food is great, it opens at 11 a.m. and Iím doing my radio program there beginning at 10. Iíll be looking for fans on hand to offer an opinion on my Question of the Day ó is hockey really a sport? All responses outside of the Chris Simon variety are welcome and Iíll look forward to the exchange.
Best place to watch if you came hoping to score a ticket and got shut out: No disrespect meant to anyplace else, but number one is Billyís Sports Bar off Valley. Itís got more TVs than your neighborhood Circuit City, so you can watch the hockey game, the basketball tournament, Red Sox in spring training, the Tokyo Giants and probably the world cup cricket matches at the same time. Plus if you get in a fight, as some hockey folks are prone to, the emergency room at Elliot Hospital is a stoneís throw away.
Where to eat after the game: Go see Peaches (turn the) Paige at Cotton off Commercial Street and get the meatloaf. I know, nobody orders meatloaf at a restaurant, but DO it. I first had it at a New Yearís party. I thought it was great, and not just because I needed to take a cab home that night. I later got the secret recipe and proved even I can make it. The only problem: itís the restaurant version for about 30, so Iíve still got some in the freezer from the last time the Hockey Tournament was here.
Thereís also C. R. Sparks and Hanover Street Chop House. Both are owned by the world-famous Chuck Rolecek, although it might actually be Rolochek, since I misspell his name only slightly less than my all-time top five of John Havlichek, Bill Belichick, Nikita Khrushchev, Coach K and, oh, of course, local scribe Kevin Gray (or is it Grey, I can never remember). Chuck played at Denver a long time ago, which, oh by the way, won it all the last time the regional was played here. His son Steven plays for Harvard, so heís one of you ó a hockey guy.
Where to get action highlights: Iím sure ESPN will have them, but Iíd suggest Channel 9. Itís most likely at 12 on the cable, where Jamie Staton (his case) and the crew will have it wall to wall at around 6:20 and 11:20 p.m. on Saturday.
What about Sunday: If youíre interested in landmark diners, try the Red Arrow on Lowell. Last time I was in the Arrow there was a guy wearing a full-fledged Nazi uniform. Admittedly it was a long time ago and at three in the morning, but itís a place to say ďIíve been there.Ē
Enjoy the games.
Dave Long is host of Home Team Saturday with Dave Long and Company, 10 a.m. to noon each Saturday morning on WGAM (1250 AM in Manchester and 900 AM in Nashua).