MHERST - The Mullins Center was quiet Tuesday afternoon. The 9,493 seats were vacant. The locker rooms were empty and the public address system quiet.
An eerie serenity engulfed the main arena, too calm for a structure designed for raucous crowds.
Press the No. 3 button on the building's tortoise-slow elevator and the atmosphere soon changes. There is energy and a rising feeling of anticipation from the knowledge that the building's summer hibernation is nearing the end.
The third floor is home to the offices for ice hockey and men's and women's basketball. All three head coaches are anxious to begin their respective seasons.
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At the other end of the third floor (from the ice hockey office), Bruiser Flint's men and Joanie O'Brien's women's basketball teams don't officially take the floor for another week, when Midnight Madness kicks off hoops across the nation, but they were sharing Mallen's enthusiasm.
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Things to prove
Perhaps the person most anxious for the 1999-2000 season to start is Flint, because that will mean the 1998-99 campaign and it's 14-16 blemish is permanently behind him.
Despite the ominous predictions of some preseason basketball magazines, Flint thinks he's been dealt a pretty good hand this time.
James "Bruiser" Flint
The three coaches have discussed their situations with each other.
"Bru and I see each other all the time and we flew back from Philadelphia where we were both out recruiting," O'Brien said. "I think we both feel like we have teams that might be looked at as down a little bit because of last year. We have some things to prove and we think we have kids that can prove it.
"The kids from all three teams are pretty close," she continued. "They see each other in the weight room and they can't wait to get started."
"We're extremely supportive of each other," Mallen said. "I see all of us psychologically ready to turn the page and get ready for what's coming up and not what happened in the past. I see a lot of optimism with Bruiser and Joanie and I think we have a great chance to improve on last season."
The rap of the puck against the boards has already begun and the toots and squeaks of whistles and sneakers is fast approaching. On the third floor of the Mullins Center, they're smiling wide.