Hockey fans hepped up outside Verizon Wireless Arena
Wearing a game-worn UMass Lowell hockey jersey, Scott Kaplan arrived at Murphy's Tap Room across from the Verizon Wireless Arena more than 3 hours before game time.
The high-flying River Hawks, a 6-1 winner against Wisconsin in Friday's early game, are the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Northeast Regional - and Kaplan is their No. 1 fan. A meteorologist who works in Nashua, Kaplan has attended 37 of 39 games this season, even making a trip to Colorado in November. His blue and red jersey was worn earlier this season by UMass Lowell junior forward Derek Arnold, who scored the only goal in the team's Hockey East championship against Boston University last weekend.
Hockey fans from UMass Lowell and the University of New Hampshire have taken over the city, hoping to follow their teams all the way to a national title in Pittsburgh. Pockets of Denver and Wisconsin fans could be found throughout Manchester on Friday afternoon, but they were lost in a sea of red, white and blue (UNH and Lowell colors) as 8,000 fans made their way into the Verizon.
"I was a freshman at Lowell in 1990 and have been a fan ever since," said Kaplan, a Brockton, Mass., resident who works at Hometown Forecast Services in Nashua. "If last weekend at the Garden (in Boston) was any indication, Lowell should have tremendous support."
Look no farther than the sidewalk outside of Murphy's Tap Room, where the UMass Lowell Alumni Association - called the "Talon Club" - set up a table and banners long before the puck dropped. Down the street, other fans gathered at J.W. Hill's Sports Bar, the Portland Pie Company and The Shaskeen.
Fred Dean of Madison, Wis., a diehard Badgers fan, planned a week-long visit to New England to fully enjoy the road trip. Dean was hoping the Badgers would be clicking on cylinders, and, just as importantly, the Wisconsin band was in the house. (It wasn't.)
"We love the team and the play, but the excitement of the fans and the band are almost as much fun as the game," said Dean, a season ticket holder at Wisconsin's Kohl Center, enjoying a pregame meal at Portland Pie. "We enjoy college hockey so much more than the pros because of the overall environment."
Down the street, UNH fans packed Margaritas, which has become the official NCAA headquarters of Wildcats fans in recent years. UNH graduate Shawn Joyce of Portsmouth, former president and CEO of Margaritas, began hosting UNH at the restaurant for the 2004 NCAA Northeast Regional. During Happy Hour, UNH fans watched on TV as the River Hawks crushed Wisconsin.
"We love having the fans. They're really loyal," Margaritas manager P.J. Molina said.
Last night, Lowell fans were still celebrating their team's 27th win of the season, a Division I-era record for the River Hawks. Lowell (27-10-2) plays in the regional final today (6:30 p.m.) against UNH/Denver. Kaplan will be wearing his No. 29 Arnold sweater.
"His parents told me I have to keep wearing it," said Kaplan, who bought the shirt for $75 in a silent auction. "Two years ago, this team only won five games. This has been the best month ever as a fan."