“Face Off”

A pack of players congregates at the opposite end of the ice, each trying furiously to dig the puck out of the corner. “Get it out of there!” says the guy behind me, as if the players can hear him from the student section. Although it’s useless, I echo his sentiment. Finally, a break –– a player gets a lucky stab at the puck and sends it sliding across center ice. His teammate collects it smoothly onto the blade of his stick and flies across the ice in a blur of red and white. As he approaches the net, we all hold our breath.  In one motion he fakes out the goalie, takes the shot… and the puck connects solidly with the back of the net. Score!

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I wasn’t always a hockey fan.  I went to my first game in 2007, back home in Milwaukee, and have been hooked ever since. I’ve been around for a lot of good games but have never experienced anything like the student section at UW-Madison. Some good luck led to my first, great experience watching UW Hockey. After picking up my friend’s ticket, we arrived at the Kohl Center at 12:24 p.m. The doors open an hour and a half before the game starts, so we were literally the third and fourth people in line! After a few minutes of waiting, we exchanged our vouchers and got our tickets. Student section tickets are randomly assigned depending on when you get in, and our seats could not have been better. We sat in the first row, right up against the glass and almost directly behind one of the goals.

Each time the Badgers score, the Kohl Center explodes with noise. You can’t hear your own voice because the people next to you are screaming so loud. The players tackle each other into the boards in delight, and you share a similar excitement with fellow students, whether you know those next to you or not. I had the pleasure of showing my friend how fun it is to bang your hands on the glass after a goal, as a sign of appreciation (but mostly because it’s fun). Hopefully, the adrenaline of the first goal carries into the next one and the next one. In the case of the first game, the Badgers won 3-2.

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I try to avoid sports metaphors, but the reason they are used so often is that they are just so applicable to real life. For example, to begin gameplay, a linesman drops a puck over the face-off circle and opposing players try to knock it over to their side. For those of you that prefer summer sports, it’s basically like a basketball tip-off. I see college like those few seconds before the puck falls on the ice. Which zone are we going to let the puck fall into today: the academic or the social? During a scholarship interview this summer, I remember telling a panel of alumni that my favorite thing about Madison is the creation of an atmosphere where world-renowned academics and legendary parties can coexist. It’s simple for a student leading a campus tour to tell you that balancing these two categories is easy. Realistically, though, it’s harder to do in practice. For example, I’m writing this post at Der Rathskeller in Memorial Union on a weeknight. Not your typical academic environment, but I find that you can make it work with enough effort.

During a face-off, there isn’t a lot of time to think. You must rely on muscle memory in a high-pressure situation. College is similar. We come here with a million different experiences and beliefs and have to apply them to countless new situations. Sometimes you have to let your instincts guide you because there is no time to think. Hopefully, those instincts will lead us to good decisions most of the time –– like getting to the game one-and-a-half hours early and scoring good seats. Like everything, college is all about choices, and over the course of four years, we will make a ton of them. Even though we control our lives, it takes a little bit of luck and skill to make sure our choices end in a goal.

 

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