When James van Riemsdyk’s skate touched the ice of Northeastern University’s Matthews Arena, the entire upper bowl, dressed in red for the “We Want Blood” theme, hollered and booed in his direction.
Throughout the game, Northeastern’s fierce fan section, the DogHouse, booed every time the blade of van Riemsdyk’s stick touched the puck. He scored two goals, something that did not go over well with the DogHouse, in what was ultimately a Huskies win.
Leonard Zaichkowsky, sports psychologist for the Boston University Terriers, commented on the effect of fan sections on players, “It’s a contributor to the home ice advantage. Fans try to make home ice advantage by trying to distract and annoy the opposition and at the same times motivate the home team.”
In this past season, the DogHouse has grown in size and intensity. Tim Fouche, one of the DogHouse leaders said, “It’s been an amazing growth. My freshman year we were lucky to have three rows. As the team has gotten better more people come out. It has grown over 1000 people in the past year.”
This season, the DogHouse has emerged as being one of the best and toughest fan sections in Hockey East. They have created an identity unlike any other fan section, “We’re all students, 90 percent of the balcony is students. Other places have families or townies. At Matthews it’s all college kids who bring the atmosphere,” said Fouche, a fourth year student at Northeastern majoring in pharmacy.
The DogHouse follows the same cheers every game. They vary from yelling, “Sieve you suck!” after the Huskies score to yelling, “Get off the ice,” when an opposing player gets a penalty. The fan section never gets tired, they are yelling and cheering all 60 minutes of the game, through the warm-up skate and during the two intermissions.
The DogHouse even travels to away games just to show the other schools how dedicated Husky fans are. “Based on this season, we’re number one and BU is a close second. There building isn’t as loud,” said Fouche.
Themes are another very important part to creating energy in the DogHouse. Various themes this year have included, a white out, a red light/green light party and horns night.
For players coming into Matthews Arena, they know they are not only playing against the hockey team, but will also be struggling to keep the DogHouse out of their heads. “It’s intimidating, especially if it’s a players first time at Matthews,” said Fouche.
Zaichkowsky discussed different ways teams handle facing an intense fan section, like that of the DogHouse, “Good coaches will prepare teams, they might even video or audio tape them. Some will put similar noise in practice so they’ve heard it before. It helps to keep the focus on the task that is important and not the crazy behavior of fans”
Boston University forward, Colin Wilson, who recently led the Terriers to be NCAA champions, believes the DogHouse is one of the toughest fan sections in Hockey East. “I think it is because the way the fans are, they are right on top of you. It makes for a great atmosphere and the smaller rink plays to Northeastern’s advantage,” he said.
Wilson said his worst experience was when the DogHouse had the “Pots and Pans” theme, making the arena extremely loud. Wilson, who was a finalist for Hobey Baker, does not prepare differently when coming to Matthews Arena however, he said, “I think when I play there I do kind of think about it more because I know the crowd is a little bit more ruthless.”
The DogHouse has given opposing goalies the most abuse all season. Fouche said, “I think goalies are trained to block it out. They work more of the mental side of the game. When they turn around and acknowledge you, you know we’ve gotten in their head. Some can block it out, but they definitely hear it.”
Zaichkowsky also discussed the attention given to the opposing team’s goalie in the fan sections. “It is easier said than done, to ignore it. They need to use the targeting to stay motivated. It’s like a double edged sword,” he said.
Paul Dainton, starting goalie for University of Massachusetts, is completely able to block out fan sections, “You don’t notice it really. I try to keep everything between the glass. It doesn’t take my focus off the game.”
UMass played a three game series at Matthews Arena for the Hockey East quarterfinals. Dainton enjoys playing at Matthews Arena because of the electric atmosphere it provides.
Former University of New Hampshire star, James van Riemsdyk, had a unique experience with the DogHouse this year. In the first game UNH played at Matthews Arena van Riemsdyk took a cheap hit on a Husky player after the final buzzer.
This prompted the DogHouse to wear all red when van Riemsdyk made his next appearance. The DogHouse theme was, “We Want Blood,” specifically, James van Riemsdyk’s blood.
Van Riemsdyk, who has recently signed a professional contract with the Philadelphia Flyers organization, was aware of this before coming in for the game, “I wasn’t nervous. We saw it on facebook and joined the event as a joke. It shows the passion the students have for college hockey.”
Van Riemsdyk respects the DogHouse for the passion it shows, “Matthews is up there as far as fans getting on you. I definitely feel Matthews is top (of toughest Hockey East arenas) especially this year because Northeastern had a great year, and I’m sure that helped the students get into it.”
Another way the DogHouse singled out van Riemsdyk was to boo everytime he touched the puck. “That was the first time that ever happened to me. It was a bit intimidating, but cool… and unique.”
Zaichkowsky encourages players to take these acts and turn them around in order to improve their own game. “Let them use it as a motivational tool. If I am a coach, I would tell them to just reverse these things. Show them what you’re made of, rise to the occasion. Forget the nasty things they are saying, counter it.
In the last season, the DogHouse has enabled Matthews Arena to be one of the toughest college rinks to play in. The fans are able to help keep the other team distracted while encouraging the Huskies on to the successful season they have had.
“The fans are really into it. Sometimes it get ugly, but it shows passion for the game,” said van Riemsdyk.