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ON HOCKEY

Home at last

With the opening of Agganis Arena, BU finally has a true campus center

Boston University did not become a first-class hockey program last night. If that's what you're thinking, now that the Terriers are officially housed in their sparkling $95 million Agganis Arena, then you are at least 30 years and four NCAA titles behind the times.

BU has been a first-class hockey program for even longer than Jack Parker has been hanging around the Braves Field end of Commonwealth Ave. as the Terrier head coach, which dates back to the invention of frozen water, give or take an Ice Age or two.

What the Terriers now have, finally and fittingly, is a building the equal of their program, and that can only mean good things for the school's stick-carriers, puck-chasers, Zamboni drivers, and overall student body for decades to come. The Agganis Arena, with its signature paw prints dappled across the center-ice red line, is an NCAA showpiece, an object of athletic envy for every school on both sides of the Charles River and out there in The Heights.

No longer are the Terriers tucked away at the dark, untidy end of Babcock Street, where, on rainy and frozen winter nights, finding the entrance to Walter Brown Arena was a chore befitting a Charles Dickens novel. The Terriers weren't exactly a secret, not with their treasure trove of NCAA titles ('71, '72, '78, and '95), 20 trips to the Frozen Four, and no fewer than 25 Beanpot titles. But the mere location of their home arena all but made them one of the city's best-kept -- and poorly housed -- secrets.

Though it is neither overstated nor garish, there is nothing subtle about where the Terriers play now. They are out there, with a rink as brilliant as a new copper penny, and last night's opener against Minnesota even beckoned a handful of scalpers to the sidewalk. Times are lean for the Hub's ticket hustlers, what with the Bruins in suspended animation because of another NHL lockout and the Celtics drawing empty seats and suites by the thousands.

You know times have really changed when the money changers are working Comm. Ave. on a Monday night for a Golden Gophers-Terriers tilt. You also know it remains, and always will, a pretty good hockey town.

The record will show that BU junior forward Brad Zancanaro nailed in the first goal in arena history with 6:15 gone in the first period, setting the stage for the 2-1 victory. Showing those trademark Terrier legs (a trademark patented by Parker), the blazing Zancanaro raced across the blue line to catch up with the puck and then ripped off a low snap shot that just made its way inside the left post. It was nothing fancy, but it was a quick and early sting that further juiced up the sellout crowd of 6,224. And, of course, the BU band provided the proper orchestral flourish.

There is no stat sheet, however, that will record the greatest metamorphosis that took place along the Green Line's trolley tracks with the opening of the Agganis. As the puck fell at center ice at 7 p.m., Boston University, once and for all, had a campus.

The rink was not only the place to be at BU last night, it was an anchor, a signature building named in honor of a legendary athlete. It was also the honest-to-goodness epicenter of a school that for decades has stood as a collection of mostly nondescript, warehouselike buildings along both sides of the MBTA tracks.

Take it from one who dodged the trolleys on those tracks as an undergrad for academic years 1971-75: The BU campus has never been a place to embrace as home. Until last night, the school's topographical identity was Kenmore Square, the perpetual stream of trolleys along the Green Line, and, for some, the beeline to the subterranean Dugout lounge (no stranger, shall we say, to the BU hockey community over the decades).

The Agganis, with its oversized picture windows beckoning passersby, is just part of a $220 million athletic initiative by BU that includes a dynamic student recreation center due to open this spring. The two athletic buildings, centered among new towering student dorms, won't turn Kenmore Square back into a 17th-century cow pasture, but they will provide a gathering place, a sense of belonging for students, that never before has been part of the BU quality-of-life equation.

None of that has much to do about the X's and O's of hockey, or the Terriers' standing in Hockey East, or how they'll finish in next month's annual Beanpot on FleetStreet or their odds in the NCAA Tournament. Truth be told, though, the old rink had nothing to do with any of that, either. The game, and the guts that it takes to play it, should never be considered a function of the building. Hockey is simply the function in the building.

"It's going to benefit the hockey program, no doubt about that," said former Terrier standout Mike Eruzione, captain of the 1980 US Olympic hockey team that won the gold medal at Lake Placid. "But a project of this magnitude and impact was based on the needs and desires of the entire student community. The rink, the rec center . . . the school's never had a place like this where students can just hang. It's really a win-win, for the hockey program, all the students, the entire city of Boston."

Terrier hockey has a brand new home, with fabulous seating (steep, like old hockey barns), bright lights, and training amenities galore for the players. The Agganis is the rink the players will call home, and perhaps it will be a place for a school to call its heart. 

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