The mirthful mysteries of Dartmouth Hockey Twitter
It was Selection Sunday for men’s hockey; hardly a holiday in Hanover for 38 years and counting.
The local Division I program had seen the curtain drop on a 16-17-2 run through the 2017-18 regular season and ECAC tournament one week prior. That meant an automatic disqualification from the NCAA bracket, which Dartmouth last reached in 1980.
Yet when the faithful fans of realistic regional hopefuls took to social media, the Dartmouth Hockey Twitter account joined. Its associated program’s fate, unlike every other prominent partygoer’s, was certain from the start. Nonetheless, its expressed attitude evoked memories of the black knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
With each regional that failed to find a slot for the Big Green, its knight had a limb lopped off. By 12:13 p.m. (9:13 a.m. Twitter Time), the unwaveringly determined warrior was reduced to an immobile stump.
That was when @Dartmouth_MIH tweeted, “When do they announce the wild card team that the judges bring back like they do on @AGT?” The account followed that with a hopeful reference to the nonexistent hockey NIT.
So at least they were polite enough not to publicly threaten to bite anyone’s legs off. Meanwhile, the man behind the handle was privately communicating good-natured Frozen Four dreams to his College Hockey, Inc. counterpart.
The man in question is the program’s sports information contact, Pat Salvas, who agreed to doff the Dartmouth Hockey Twitter mask and reveal his secret identity to Pucks and Recreation.
“It started as a joke,” Salvas told Pucks and Rec.” “I texted Nate Ewell right after the conference tournaments were over and said something to the effect of ‘So when are we announcing that I’m taking over the College Hockey, Inc. Twitter for the Frozen Four?’
“From there, we went back and forth and talked about the tone and the expectations of how I would run it if they agreed to it. It was really finalized when we were both in St. Paul for the games. I met up with him in one of the media workrooms, we talked about some minor details, I showed him some of my ideas and whatnot, and we were good to go.”
For three-and-a-half glorious hours, from 4:15 to 7:54 p.m. Central, Salvas went national. Under the @collegehockey handle, he brought the inimitable @Dartmouth_MIH flavor to the first Frozen Four semifinal.
How inimitable? Upon posting NHL ’94-inspired graphics and early-elementary artwork of the starting lineups under the @collegehockey name, Salvas drew accusations of plagiarism. The Dartmouth defenders, though, were quick to catch their error upon reading the takeover announcement they had previously missed.
Prior knowledge was crucial for those following the 49 tweets on Minnesota-Duluth’s 2-1 squeaker past Ohio State. After all, four of the messages alluded to UMD’s triumph at the Ledyard Bank Classic this past winter.
In case anyone still doesn’t get that reference, the Ledyard Bank Classic has been Dartmouth’s on-campus holiday tournament for the majority of the lst 40 seasons. With the win on April 5, UMD became the first program to win the Classic and reach an NCAA final in the same season. The Bulldogs would upgrade that milestone by topping Notre Dame in the championship two nights later.
When his shift was over, the Big Green ventriloquist thanked Ewell’s brand “for putting your reputation on the line!” It is the same privilege Salvas has savored and mastered in the name of a storied Ivy League ice program. Although he also credits the Los Angeles Kings for a timely coincidence of social-media daring and on-ice success.
Dartmouth Hockey Twitter debuted in the summer of 2011, almost five-and-a-half years after the network launched. By Salvas’ recollection, the @Dartmouth_MIH handle hovered around 600 followers during its rookie season.
The niche group implicitly came for information, but got an innocuous helping of hard-to-find entertainment on the side.
“It’s just my personality,” Salvas said. “I’m serious when I need to be. But other than that, I’m a 33-year old man who watches The Simpsons nightly.
“Funny resonates more with people than serious, direct and bland. I just saw at the beginning of ‘sports Twitter’ that everyone was so boring. Just giving the information as upfront as possible. I wanted to add a little life and color.
“I had a professor in college, the great Bill Schweizer, who told me that sports were the toy department of life. I don’t think anything from college resonated with me more than that. That’s the phrase I always come back to when I’m working. Whether it’s in my office or tweeting from Appleton Arena at St. Lawrence with a six-hour bus ride in a snowstorm back to Hanover ahead of me later…I’m having fun.”
The Big Green’s 2011-12 season ended in an ECAC quarterfinal defeat, just as it did this past year. But a month later, the first chapter L.A.’s Cinderella story in the NHL playoffs infused more credence to the snarky side of the sports Twitterverse.
Many puck pen-pushers took note of the Kings’ account’s message to every Canadian province east of British Columbia. Upon watching its represented squadron snuff the top-seeded Canucks in the first round, it told the anti-Vancouver throngs, “You’re welcome.”
Per Salvas, “the account started getting noticed for the tone” after that.
Almost exactly six years to the day, @Dartmouth_MIH boasts 7,388 followers. That was the count as of this past Wednesday afternoon, up by at least 44 from the week prior.
Yes, a full month into spring (such as it is), Salvas is still snowballing his organization’s attention. It comes largely from loosening up and voicing an acknowledgment that there is more to life than hockey.
The team’s Twitter bio proudly proclaims that “Our top-two tweets are about dogs and not hockey.” Its current pinned tweet testifies to that effect. On other days that would otherwise be lamented as “slow news days,” the account may strike up a Simpsons thread.
And of course, there are periodic, opportunistic references to Joe Sakic.
Wait, Joe Sakic? The same Joe Sakic who grew up in British Columbia and squandered his NCAA eligibility by joining the major-junior Western League at age 16? Whose teenage and twentysomething offspring could theoretically, but will not likely pursue U.S. college hockey?
Salvas can explain. Born in the mid-’80s, he rooted for the Quebec Nordiques early in his upbringing. He maintained his allegiance to the personnel even after they moved and morphed into the Colorado Avalanche in 1995.
Since assuming his post at Dartmouth, he has combined his appreciation for the two-time Stanley Cup-winning captain with an homage to Talladega Nights.
“The scene in Ricky Bobby where he leaves tickets for his dad every race, only to see his dad sell them, always made me laugh,” said Salvas. “This year, I started making (Sakic) a name placard for the press box and putting it next to my seat with a different fact or note each game and then tweeting it out and tagging the @Avalanche.”
Hardly one to go unduly offside, Salvas later contemplated lobbying to extend Sakic’s invitations to ECAC barns besides Thompson Arena. At least three league rivals have happily played along.
“I started including him on my email lists to other schools’ SIDs for our travel party/press box seating needs,” he said. “Usually I’d list all our real staff members and then put him at the end with some note like, ‘I don’t know if he’ll be making it to the game this weekend, but just in case can you leave him a spot?’
“RPI left him a press pass. Union left him a spot for both he and his wife in the seats next to me in their press box. And St. Lawrence told me that, if he showed up, he could stand outside the press box since there was no room.”
Whenever there is any room for creativity, Salvas will seize it. Like a well-trained playmaker, he habitually and deftly capitalizes on combinations of time and space. He is ready whether those openings manifest themselves expectedly or not, by force or by happenstance.
And like a flashy, flair-laden forward, he will occasionally draw a little irritation from the other team. A late-season visit to Harvard in 2013-14 exemplified that fact.
Due to illness, Salvas was nearly a scratch from the Bright-Landry Hockey Center press box that night. But he gutted it out, gorging on cough drops all the way, and watched a maintenance malfunction unfold.
“Harvard’s Zamboni died after our pre-game warmups,” he recalled. As a result, the 7 p.m. faceoff would not happen until 8:36.
“The Zamboni got stuck on the ice, so they dumped the snow and had a couple of players come out to push it. I couldn’t believe my eyes watching future Hobey Baker winner Jimmy Vesey and some of these other young guys out there in full uniform pushing it toward the door to get it off the ice.
“Some people would’ve tweeted out that we were in a delay and just waited it out. I did not. I went in on them. Live tweeting everything that was happening, posting pics of Tim Allen from Home Improvement and Bob the Builder. I was honestly just trying to fill the time and ignore the fact that my throat was on fire.”
With his choice of distraction, Salvas sparked his own blaze online. The odds-and-ends turn of events alone would have been enough to turn the heads of mainstream news outlets. Case in point, everyone from the New England Sports Network to TSN was catching wind of the updates.
When The Sporting News jumped in, the colorful Big Green handle had usurped the story. A short post by Sean Gentile ran under the headline, “Harvard Zamboni breaks down; Dartmouth Twitter takes control.”
Gentile went on to highlight six of Salvas’ posts. Among the playful jabs at the host party was “Having the Zamboni break down and drop snow in the area of the net we have to defend twice? Bold strategy, Harvard.” Another: “Great. It’s off the ice. I hate to be that guy, though, but you missed a spot.” (The accompanying image confirmed as much.)
“I just want people to love hockey as much as I do,” he said. “Or at least half as much as I do. It’s such a great game, and the people who make it up on every level are incredible. If the way you get more eyes on the game is by cracking a few jokes and not taking yourself so seriously, then it’s a good thing.” – Patrick Salvas
According to the time stamps, at least two more tweets on the topic came after the belated opening faceoff. And after a Harvard representative approached with a simple cease-and-desist request.
“I didn’t, because I was power tripping,” Salvas said. “But I was at least polite in saying no. Credit my parents for my politeness.”
But in due time, just like the ice-level personnel, the Dartmouth Hockey Twitter account got back to the serious fun at hand. It never fails to do so when it must, because Salvas is learned enough to sustain that equilibrium. As long as he has his way, no one will go astray toward detrimental distraction nor cantankerous competitiveness.
“I just want people to love hockey as much as I do,” he said. “Or at least half as much as I do. It’s such a great game, and the people who make it up on every level are incredible. If the way you get more eyes on the game is by cracking a few jokes and not taking yourself so seriously, then it’s a good thing.”
And there is your method to the mirthfulness. The humor is still a means to an end of hooking people on hockey. That, and maybe also breaking up the stuffy stereotypes of the Ivy League.
“If I’m just cracking jokes for the sake of cracking jokes, I should be standing in front of a brick wall asking ‘what’s the deal with airline peanuts?’” Salvas said.
“People want to know about the team, the young men who play and the games against our ECAC Hockey and Ivy League rivals. Keeping it light is the tone of it, but the core message still is about the hockey team it represents.
“I also gotta believe that Joe Sakic likes to laugh.”