The puck drops and two teams of bareheaded college men, their hair parted neatly down the middle, give chase. Skates flashing, sticks flailing, they look like a barbershop quartet gone berserk.
The game is hard-fought, clean, a tie. Final score: Johns Hopkins 2, Yale 2. The partisan Baltimore crowd approves. A standoff with Yale? Well done, lads. Cheers reverberate through the spiffy wooden arena.
Rah, Johnny! Rah, Hop!
Rah, Johnny Hopkins!
Thus was college hockey born, a century ago today.
The game between Hopkins and Yale on Feb. 1, 1896, marked the beginning of intercollegiate play, according to the American Hockey Coaches Association, which plans a centennial celebration during the NCAA championships in Cincinnati next month.
That Hopkins helped pioneer the college sport rankles some hockey purists, who'd rather their cradle were filled with Yanks -- or, at least, schools that still play the game.
Yale kept its team, but Hopkins abandoned competitive hockey in 1898, after a four-year fling. The school has revived hockey on the club level on several occasions, but never returned to the big time.
"Frankly, our centennial would have been sexier if the first game had been between, say, Harvard and Brown," said Joe Bertagna, executive director of the AHCA, which has left Hopkins out of its anniversary plans. "Having Johns Hopkins has thrown us a curve. It doesn't serve our marketing well to have had them there, but you can't change history."
It's a heritage that Hopkins virtually ignored for decades.
"I was here seven years before I learned [of Hopkins' hockey past]," said athletic director Tom Calder. "Who told me? My brother, who lives in Canada."
Hopkins began playing hockey in 1895, one of a number of American colleges and amateur club teams to take a whack at the game that was pushing down from Canada like a fast-moving cold front.
Nowhere was hockey a bigger hit than in Baltimore, reported The Sun of Jan. 11, 1895:
" 'A puck? Sorry, sir, but we have run out of them and hope to have more in tomorrow.' Thus did a sporting goods salesman distressedly explain to a customer a day or two ago.
"Local dealers in skates and hockey goods have had such a trade in the last five weeks that it seemed as if all of Baltimore was mad with desire for the winter sport."
To cash in on the craze, an indoor ice rink was built on North Avenue near St. Paul Street. Completed late in 1894, the arena had an arched stone entrance, raised seating, a restaurant and room for 7,000 skaters and spectators.
There, on a cold, rainy Saturday in 1896, Hopkins and Yale faced off before several thousand fans, none of whom likely realized the magnitude of the game.
Both sides had seasoned players. Yale's were Malcolm Chace and Arthur Foote, the intercollegiate tennis champions who'd been smitten by hockey during a clay-court tour of Canada.
Hopkins had Rufus Bagg, 26, a fiery, redheaded New Englander who'd grown up on skates, as had soft-spoken team captain Sam Mitchell, a native of Canada. Though only a freshman, goalie George Scholl, a preacher's son who'd attended City College, already had impressed the press, which dubbed his play in the net "little short of marvelous."
Hopkins challenged Yale to the game, with good reason. The Baltimore school had more experience, having played eight times against local amateur teams, winning four. Yale's first road trip had begun inauspiciously the night before, with a 3-2 loss to a Baltimore athletic club.
But the visitors rebounded, battling Hopkins to the tie and setting up a dramatic rematch two weeks later on North Avenue.
There, Yale prevailed, 2-1. Call it the comeback of the century.
Hopkins scored first and seemed en route to a blowout, The Sun reported:
"By fine team work and the very excellent play of Bagg, [Hopkins players] fired the puck time and again at the Yale goal, but just as often were thwarted by remarkable defense."
The blue-stockinged Yalies fought back behind Chace, their ace, who skated the length of the ice to score twice. Yale left town, elated: Its second game against Hopkins had produced college hockey's first victory.
Hopkins then regrouped and took out its wrath on an amateur team, defeating the Washington All-Stars, 8-0, in a game in which the hot-tempered Bagg was ejected for fighting.
Hopkins finished the season with a losing record (2-4-3), due in part to a lack of practice. Competition was keen for ice time at the city's lone arena, and players balked at the morning workouts, according to an entry in the 1896 college yearbook:
"After a man has studied until 11 or 12 o'clock at night, it is no slight matter to get out to the rink . . . at the unearthly hour of 7 a.m."
Hockey hung on at Hopkins for two more years and six more college games, all losses, save for another 2-2 deadlock with archrival Yale. Interest in Baltimore hockey plummeted; crowds dwindled. Toward the end, a yearbook wag wrote in 1898, one had to "use opera glasses to find the Hopkins rooters" at games.
Financial difficulties forced the closure of the North Avenue rink that same year, leaving the city without an indoor skating facility until 1932. Today, there's a parking lot on the spot where the old rink stood.
And what of Hopkins' 19th-century hockey heroes? Goalie Scholl became a Baltimore physician and captain Mitchell a renowned astronomer who would measure the distances to more than 1,000 stars before his death in 1960.
As for Bagg, the plucky, blue-eyed forward led a colorful life, globe-hopping in search of precious gems. A geologist, Bagg explored gold mines from Canada to Mexico before settling in Wisconsin to teach at Lawrence University and skate on the Fox River behind his house.
"[Bagg] was a wonderful skater, and he loved to take risks," said his granddaughter, Constance Colby. "Hockey was perfect for him. I can see him sizing up a situation on the ice and skating right in, not worrying about the consequences.
"He always said those Hopkins years were among his best of times."