In a season of triumphant wins, bloody brawls and epic comebacks, plenty of heroes have been born of the men’s hockey team’s spectacular run to an ECAC championship. Yet one of the greatest heroes of this magical season is not on the team roster.
Through the efforts of the beloved Captain Freedom — in addition, of course, to the Cleary Cup champions with whom he shares the ice — Ingalls Rink has become a fortress of energy, excitement and enthusiasm from which opponents rarely escape unscathed. Who is this unsung hero? None other than Tim Handlon ’10.
Sporting a top hat, cape and mask, Captain Freedom, along with the newly named, more traditional Yale mascot, Boola, has been taking to the ice between periods of the men’s home hockey games this year. As he skates around calling for noise from the crowd and throwing Yale hockey T-shirts into throngs of excited fans, Captain Freedom maintains the electric atmosphere that has become an integral part of the team’s success.
Yet his presence, like his identity, is shrouded in mystery — very few fans understand how and why a patriotic man in tight pants has become a fixture at Ingalls Rink.
The tradition began in the 1970s, when members of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity sought a way to couple the frat’s patriotism with support for the men’s hockey team. One of the brothers donned skates and a cape, and Captain Freedom was born.
Since then, the job has been passed down from brother to brother, and each successor has been hand-picked to wear the red, white and blue. The helm of Captain Freedom XII has been taken up by Handlon, a middle linebacker on the Yale football team.
“The honorary title has been passed down through many DKE generations, where only the most rowdy, enthusiastic, and patriotic are worthy of this great title,” DKE brother, football teammate and fellow hockey fan Tom Mante ’10 said.
Mante noted that Handlon’s selection as Captain Freedom was suitable, given the Berkeley College junior’s love for his country.
“Thanks to Captain Freedom, our house now proudly sports a 30-foot American flag that covers three walls in our living room,” Mante said. “[He] is a true patriot.”
Upon being selected to continue the tradition, Handlon, a political science major, received two things — the Captain Freedom uniform and, more problematically, a pair of skates.
“I grew up on a pond in Indiana, but I hadn’t really skated before,” Handlon said. “The first few times out there were a little rough; I almost fell a couple of times.”
The uniform, too, required work.
“I did some modernizing,” Handlon explained, “but some parts are still from the original Captain Freedom.”
The whole ensemble is homemade, an endearing combination of tight white pants and a white T-shirt with the words “Captain Freedom” written on them in permanent marker. These, combined with an Uncle Sam top hat, an American flag safety-pinned to his back, and, of course, the stars-and-stripes mask which conceals his identity, complete a look that has found its way into the hearts of Yale hockey fans.
Along with the uniform and skates came the task of working the crowd.
“I try to get the crowd going, especially the students. Everybody is just kind of sitting there at intermission, I want to get some excitement going,” Handlon explained.
Captain Freedom’s job, however, doesn’t end when the period begins.
“Probably the funniest thing is the little kids coming up to me and asking me for autographs,” he said. “It’s fun interacting with them, signing their hands, having them ask for shirts.”
The shirts were Handlon’s contribution to the Captain Freedom tradition. After receiving the job, he approached the people at Campus Customs about donating Yale Hockey shirts for him to throw into the crowd, and they have been generously supplying him throughout the season.
The shirts, the uniform, and the enthusiasm seem to be paying off.
“His excitement is contagious,” hockey fan Annie Spokes ’10 said. “Captain Freedom brings a lot of excitement to the game by getting fans out of their seats and cheering. One game, he got the band to play ‘God Bless America’ during one of the breaks, and the entire student section was up and singing along. He serves as great entertainment between periods.”
Mante echoed these sentiments.
“Captain Freedom has had a tremendous effect on the student section recently … He acts as the spark to the student section’s fire,” Mante said. “Everyone in the stands goes nuts when Captain Freedom skates out onto the ice, does his ‘Hulk Hogan call out’ to see which side of the student section is louder, then launches a T-shirt into the crowd. That’s just wicked awesome right there.”
Recently, Captain Freedom has been joined on the ice by freshly named Boola the Bulldog. But Handlon isn’t worried about rivalry.
“Hopefully he’ll be my new sidekick — I just turned around one day and noticed him out on the ice,” Handlon said. “Hopefully we’ll have some new stunts coming up with Captain Freedom and Boola.”
With the success of the men’s hockey team this season, it looks like there will be plenty of opportunities to entertain Yale hockey fans in the near future.
“I think it’s safe to say hockey hysteria at the Whale is upon us,” Handlon said.