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Boston College Needs To Fix The Hockey Student Section. But How?

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The atmosphere has taken a nosedive at Conte Forum; what can BC do to fix it?

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Let me throw two things out there at the start of this article.

1) BC students turn out to hockey games in huge numbers. Quite possibly the biggest numbers of any student body in Hockey East, especially given the size of the school. Over the past 5-6 years, even the less-regarded games generally draw enough students to fill behind both nets and a pretty solid chunk of the balcony. The really big games are packed to the gills. This is all very good. The uptick in student season ticket sales is the main reason why BC has been #1 in Hockey East attendance most years this decade.

2) This is not intended to be a "get off my lawn" post. I'm sure some of the discussion will go that way, with talk about Kids These Days and how they Don't Get It with their Instagrams and their YikYaks, or whatever. Quite frankly, Conte Forum has never really been known for having a raucous atmosphere and "my day" (2006-2010) wasn't really all that better, and Your Day probably wasn't either, unless Your Day was in McHugh Forum.

That said...

The atmosphere at Conte Forum for hockey this season continues to take a huge step back, to the point where several home games are painfully silent in a way that negatively impacts the experience of attending games. The student section pretty much never chants anything beyond the beloved "sieve" chant (which always shows how loud Conte can get) and the occasional half-hearted "Let's Go Eagles" chant at the start of each period. It's gotten worse as the year has progressed, and it's gotten to the point where BC really needs to consider doing something to try to address the issue for the sake of the game day environment.

For a very brief period of time, around 2011/2012 and declining since, Conte actually did start to rock pretty regularly on hockey game nights. In retrospect, this was because, for whatever reason, the students in the balcony sections then were engaged in the game and being loud. It's quite clear that the balcony is the driving force for creating atmosphere in Conte Forum. Right now, most students in the balcony usually sit and are rarely heard (you wouldn't even know it was a student section most nights—not a lot of BC colors on display either, for the most part).

As has been the case since BC moved a chunk of student section behind the nets in the early 2000s, the most hardy and enthusiastic hockey fans tend to sit behind the goalies. Makes sense. But anyone who's been to Conte Forum knows that sound just doesn't really travel across the ice from behind the nets. Students at one end can't hear the other end. As a result, BC basically has a few very small, weak student sections that can't hear one another. This makes generating atmosphere a tall task.

To be clear, no arrangement of the student section is going to inject the students with enthusiasm magically; that's going to have to come from the students themselves. But I do think the current Conte Forum setup holds back creating a great atmosphere because the student section is divided up, with the loudest fans usually in a spot where they can't be heard by the other sections.

Think of the Beanpot each year, where BC often brings the largest section and the balcony is loud throughout the game. Obviously, it helps that it's the Beanpot, but it also helps that students are in one unified group and can hear one another. If the atmosphere at BC is going to improve, that's what needs to happen.

There are really two ways of going about this.

1) Move all the students to the balcony, giving them the entire balcony on the Beacon St. side of the arena—not too dissimilar to the setup in the 1990s. This is what I propose. Put all the students together and have them be in a spot where the noise carries throughout the stadium. Put the band up there too, and let the students and band feed off one another the way they do at other schools around Hockey East; right now, there's very little interaction with the band, probably because they're isolated far away from where most of the students are.

There will be pushback to this from those who prefer sitting behind the nets, but nothing is going to make everyone happy (and the alternative(s) probably make more people unhappy, which I'll get to later). The fact of the matter is, the students were moved behind the net, displacing a number of long time season ticket holders in prime locations, for the purpose of them being able to bring an imposing atmosphere closer to the players. That's not happening right now, so there's not really a reason for BC to give up those plum seats at such a huge discount.

2) The other option would be to move all (or most of) the students behind one net, sort of like what you see at UNH, UMass or Vermont. Extend the student section out to the tall corner sections, then also supplement it with a few sections of the balcony nearest the attacking net. So, students in P, Q, R, S, T, U, VV and WW.

This would eliminate the problem of students not being able to coordinate, and would create a more imposing section that could get the arena louder.

The problem with this is that there are a number of long time season ticket holders who are probably still nonplussed about giving up the seats they had right behind the net, many of whom slid over into the corner sections upon that change. These folks will all have to be bumped to create this new arrangement. I can see why people would be upset about that, and why BC wouldn't want to do it. While there are some season ticket holders in the balcony, obviously, a seat in VV or CC is functionally the same thing as a seat in JJ or OO. Give the entire attacking zone behind the net and in the corners to students, and that's a huge change for STHs in that area who will either move to the defensive zone or move up to the balcony (or I guess move toward center ice, but I believe those are more expensive and rarely available).

I would be fine with my own seats being displaced in the name of creating a better student section, but a) I'm in the cheap seats anyway, and b) I obviously can't speak for the entire season ticket holder base. If I had lower bowl seats in the BC attacking end for 20+ years, my opinion would probably be a little different.

So that's my proposal: move all the students to the Balcony, and hope they rekindle some of that Beanpot magic and create a more raucous home environment for the Eagles. If the students want to preserve the behind the net setup, maybe they should prove it can work during the Hockey East playoff games at Conte Forum.