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A Little Bit About a Lot of Things

A lifestyle blog with a focus on my food adventures

Check out this article from BU’s Daily Free Press on October 21, 2010

FLAGLER: From Puck Star to Public Enemy

The Boston University men’s ice hockey team may miss Vinny Saponari’s goal-scoring and play-making abilities this season. BU coach Jack Parker’s decision at the end of last year to kick Saponari off the team will definitely cost BU a few goals. It may even cost them a few wins. And honestly, it doesn’t matter.

Sure, the loss of Saponari may hurt the team’s performance on the ice this season, but I think most Terrier fans would agree that losing Saponari’s offensive abilities are a small price to pay for the chance to root against maybe the most vilified player we’ll ever see.

BU hockey fans have had multiple opportunities to root for some great players over the years. Matt Gilroy, Chris Drury and John Curry come to mind. But there may be no better player to root against than Saponari.

According to transfer rules, Saponari will have to wait a year before he plays for BC. But when his name is announced at Agganis Arena next season, he will hear a louder reaction from the Dog Pound than previous targets Cory Schneider, Nathan Gerbe and Tim Benedetto combined. And if he says the boos, jeers and chants don’t affect him, he’s lying.

The hostile atmosphere won’t necessarily hurt Saponari’s performance. He could be one of those players who gets motivation from a hostile crowd and uses it to elevate his game.

Former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling said he couldn’t wait to run out of the dugout to the boos at Yankee Stadium in Game 6 of the 2004 American League Championship Series. Schilling gave up one run in seven innings in that start with blood leaking into his cleat from his surgically repaired ankle. Some athletes feed off the negativity.

Maybe Saponari is one of those athletes, but we are dealing with the same person who recorded “Party Like A Puckstar,” so I doubt even a year off will give him the maturity and toughness to shake off a tough crowd.

While suspensions, dismissals and transfers happen all the time, I can’t remember any player jumping sides in a high-profile college rivalry between two programs at the top of their game.

In professional sports, fans expect a certain level of disloyalty that comes whenever athletes are working for a paycheck. For every player who stays with one team like Tony Gwynn, there are dozens of mercenaries like Kenny Lofton, Rickey Henderson or Cliff Lee. In college sports, on the other hand, fans jump on even a hint of betrayal.

Three years ago, shooting guard and prized recruit Eric Gordon, now with the Los Angeles Clippers, switched his commitment at the last minute from University of Illinois to Indiana University.

When Gordon’s Hoosiers visited Illinois, Illini fans berated the freshman throughout the entire game. Later, they took out their frustration on Indiana fans and even Gordon’s family in the stands.

BU hockey fans won’t turn to embarrassing tactics such as pouring ice on opposing fans, but that doesn’t mean Saponari will get off easy. Gordon heard boos every time he touched the ball and constant chants of “liar,” yet he never even played a game in an Illinois uniform. Saponari has turned himself over to the enemy after winning a national title.

There are still a handful of players from that 2009 title team who will play against Saponari next season – should they decide to forego the NHL. Grizzled 23-year-old junior captain Chris Connolly has that opportunity (if it’s possible for a college player to be “grizzled,” Connolly certainly is). Junior goalie Kieran Millan, junior forward Corey Trivino and a handful of others will also get the chance to see Saponari again.

Those players may be close with Saponari after lacing up their skates alongside him for two seasons, or they may hate him. I am not in a position to make a personal judgment there.

But whether they consider Saponari a friend or a scumbag traitor, every single guy who played with him will be itching to face him again. It’s not just the fans that will draw extra motivation from seeing Saponari in maroon, the players will as well – especially those who were with him through that incredible title season and the comeback to beat Miami.

Losing Saponari doesn’t seem to have hit this year’s BU team too hard yet. While any team would love a player with Saponari’s offensive capabilities, the Terriers are not lacking in talent.

BU might not have a Frozen Four run in them this season, but they do have a nice mix of young talent in Sahir Gill and Charlie Coyle along with veterans like Connolly, David Warsofsky and Joe Pereria, which will make them a competitive team near the top of the Hockey East.

Could Saponari have been the difference that pushed BU to another Beanpot or a conference championship? Unlikely, but it’s possible. Even if that is the case, it’s worth the reward of having a player BU fans can love to hate next season.

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