A veteran of 119 games in an Engineers uniform, senior Garett Vassel knows a thing or two about playing in the Big Red Freakout!, the most celebrated event on campus. Vassel has had the privilege of playing in the last three matches—against St. Lawrence University, Brown University, and Yale University—and has every intention of suiting up this weekend against the Princeton University Tigers. “I remember being a freshman and hearing a lot of stuff about Freakout! … being told about what it was … hearing about the Freakout! game and wondering what exactly it was,” explained Vassel. “I remember that being one of the games where I was blown away by all the support. Both sides were packed … red on both sides. I remember coming out of the tunnel and looking at all the people, and it being a little more special and there being a notable amount of red everywhere you looked.”
Fast-forward three years and the importance of the game has been put into perspective for the senior forward. “In some respects you should prepare for it like ‘it’s just another game,’ but obviously there is added emphasis on this particular one.” Vassel noted how for flashier games—such as the Great Lakes Invitational held in Detroit, Mich., earlier this year—it’s a privilege to be able to step out onto the ice, but also explained how “you have to take a quick second and appreciate what’s going on. And then you shouldn’t let it take away from your focus or the jobs that need to get done.”
As far as why Freakout! is such a popular event on campus, Vassel relates it to the customs already held at Rensselaer. “It’s a celebration of tradition and respect of all the things that have happened, and all the things that are to come. RPI has a lot of tradition and impressive history behind it. It’s not a terribly huge school in the overall scheme of things, and to have the amount of recognition and some of the high profile-type players that have come in over the years is remarkable.” Big Red Freakout! is just another on that long list of traditions, along with the RPI Holiday Tournament, which is the oldest running college hockey tournament in the nation.
Vassel continued to explain how Freakout! is one of the few events on campus where the whole student body pulls together, as professors, students, and alumni all gather at the Houston Field House to relive memories and to cheer on their favorite campus team. “It’s a chance to come out and show your pride for the program, that one flagship game,” said Vassel. “This game generally gets some of the people to come out who aren’t necessarily at every other game during the season.”
This season, Freakout! will take a slightly different tone for both the players and the fans. The past few seasons haven’t been the greatest for the Engineers, but this year, it’s not a question of whether making a good playoff run is on the line, but whether the team will qualify for a first-round bye or home turf advantage. “In years past, we’ve never been home for playoffs or anything thereafter, so it’s been a high profile game towards the end of our season where we can visibly see just how much backing we receive from our fellow students and supporters. They deserve more and we’re going to give them more.”
As Vassel hits the ice at the Houston Field House for the last time during the regular season, Freakout! will take on an extra meaning to see all the fan support and dedication to the program. “To see all their appreciation and support, it still hits home. It gives you the chills, no question. It’s a special game.”