For at least one day, Pittsburgh turns into Hockeytown USA

Bob Cohn
| Thursday, April 11, 2013, 8:24 p.m.

Before any game and certainly big, important games, most teams enter the arena or stadium through a private entrance into a drab tunnel that leads to their locker rooms.

At the Frozen Four, participants and fans get the red-carpet treatment.

Hours before playing in their NCAA men's hockey national semifinals Thursday, members of the four competing teams walked into Consol Energy Center through a main spectators' gate on a Hollywood-style red carpet lined with fans.

School bands played. People yelled. Some who held out their hands received a corresponding slap (Try that with Daniel Day-Lewis). The players looked spiffy in coats and ties. Accessories included ear phones and stern, intense expressions.

The Yale Precision Marching Band played their fight song, “Bulldog.” The Massachusetts Lowell Jazz Rock Big Band countered with the Blues Brothers' well-known theme song.

The Lowell bunch seemed a bit looser. They also allow ringers (i.e., alumni) to play. “We have a very good music program,” said Zach Cooper, 27, a Lowell grad and music teacher who wore sandals and pounded a bass drum.

It took Cooper and his band mates 10 12 hours to get here by bus. But everyone seemed to have journeyed far and wide. Randy Cooper (no relation), whose son, Carson, is a freshman center for Yale, endured an 18-hour trip that started at home in Medicine Hat, Alberta, and continued to Las Vegas and Philadelphia before Pittsburgh.

There was a long layover in Las Vegas, where the airport has slot machines. Many unlucky travelers have been waylaid there, but Cooper said he won “a little bit.” As he looked around at the crowd gathered outside the big building, he said, “This is unbelievable.”

Fans sported home team and other colors and various forms of hockey garb. The hardcore were in attendance. Among them was Jerry Plouffe, a Providence graduate who wore a vintage Providence hockey jersey covered with autographs of famous players like Bobby Orr and 105 pins representing each of the 59 Division I hockey programs (some schools had more than one).

Stuck on his hat were other, more exotic pins like the one from the Fire Department Hockey Team of Anchorage, Alaska, and another commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Zamboni.

Plouffe, 74, from Mansfield, Mass., said this is his 13th consecutive Frozen Four. He does not count the one in 2010 he skipped, at Detroit's Ford Field.

“I wasn't gonna go to a hockey game at a football field,” he said.

Jim and Sue Sterle from Hibbing, Minn., wore University of Minnesota jerseys even though Yale eliminated their team. Their adult daughters, Amanda and Terri, came, too. It is their ninth straight Frozen Four together.

Basking in 70 degree warmth while their state was getting hit by a snowstorm, the Sterles would root for another Minnesota team, St. Cloud State, “as hard as it is,” Sue Sterle said.

Hibbing is the home of legendary singer and songwriter Bob Dylan. Terri Sterle said she had a friend in grade school who lived in Dylan's old house, and “people would knock on the door at 1 or 2 in the morning wanting to take a tour,” she said.

Bob Ciresi had just arrived after traveling by bus from Hamden, Conn., home of Quinnipiac. Yale is located eight miles away in New Haven. Quinnipiac beat Yale three times this year. Despite that, he said, Yale fans look down their noses at Quinnipiac.

“They don't even want to think that Quinnipiac exists,” he said. “They're real snobs.”

Class warfare?

“That's what it amounts to,” said Ciresi, 73.

And yet, with all that, Ciresi is a Yale season ticket-holder, too. How can this be?

“I love hockey,” he said while his fellow hockey-lovers filed in.

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