I thought I had considered all of the possibilities leading up to the semifinal Frozen Four game between North Dakota and Minnesota. I had dreams about the potential outcomes so I could mentally prepare myself for any possible situation. However, what transpired did not look like any of my dreams because it wasn’t a dream, it was a nightmare scenario that left UND on the short end of a 2-1 loss. I had considered the fact that we could get outplayed up and down the ice by the rodents and leave all of us disappointed, but knowing we made it farther than anyone gave the team credit for. However, the way it transpired was far worse.
North Dakota came out looking the better of the two teams and took it to Minnesota for a better part of the game, including big chances by Michael Parks and Drake Caggiula that couldn’t be capitalized upon. It was frustrating but I still had that feeling we’d get it done. The first Minnesota goal came deep into the 3rd period made me slightly upset but 30 seconds later Connor “Hobey” Gaarder(who else?) came streaking down the far boards. Gaarder put a shot on Wilcox than crashing the side of the net, he batted the puck out of the air and off Wilcox’s pads into the net. It gave me that feeling that we could make it happen… THIS could be the year… why not this team?
One and a half minutes left in the game and we go on the powerplay and it seems like, at worst, we’ll be heading to overtime but why not bury all of our PP demons in grand fashion while sending us to the title game? Unfortunately, the extra man advantage once again could not bury the puck and Wilcox continued to stand on his head. Then…the unthinkable happened.
A faceoff in the Gopher zone led to Minnesota getting the puck and chip it into the neutral zone where Kyle Rau gained possession. At this point, there wasn’t enough time on the clock left for UND to mount a counterattack and the entire Minnesota team committed to the rush. Kyle Rau fired a simple enough wrister towards Gothberg but it bounced off of Jordan Schmaltz’ skate and into the skates of Justin Holl. Holl kicked the puck to his stick and proceeded to wrist a seeing eye puck past the attempted blocks of multiple Sioux players….Gothberg never had a chance. The puck hit the far post and bounced in for Holl’s first goal of the year and my heart sank to my feet. The play had to be reviewed but I already knew, the puck made it across the goal line in time.
I don’t remember ever being as distraught over a sporting event, maybe the 2011 Frozen Four in St. Paul, but only because I was there and had to listen to Michigan fans celebrating. I know this sounds dramatic but it was as if I was going through the stages of grief. I didn’t want to talk about the game and didn’t for 2-3 days as my family and friends can attest to. I live and work in downtown Minneapolis so the following day I walked with my head down and earphones in an attempt to avoid any mention of the debacle from the night before. Of course, the first thing I hear when I get to work is a coworker at a nearby desk cranking the play-by-play of the last goal. Then a Gopher “fan” was asking other people what team they play in the title game. It was like I had to feel the loss all over again. A coworker, who was cheering for the Gophers, stopped by to talk about the game. He’s a nice guy and wasn’t rubbing it in but I don’t think he quite understands the depth of my passion for Sioux hockey. Needless to say, he received a lot of one word answers and little eye contact so safe to say he now understands.
I believe what hurt most about this game is that the team deserved better than the result. As upset as I was over the result, I haven’t put an ounce of sweat into the success of this team (unless you count running from the Delta Tau Delta frat house parking lot to make the game in time for the player announcements). I wasn’t puking on the bench during the Saturday night Omaha game and on the subsequent bus ride home. I didn’t sacrifice my body in front of 100+ shots like Dillon Simpson. I didn’t give the blood, sweat, and tears that the players on this team did. That’s why when it came down to it, I realized I was upset for the guys on the team who were more disappointed and crushed than any fan could imagine. They outplayed Minnesota for a good portion of the game but one bounce of the puck and none of that mattered. The way I likened it a few days after was a combination between the Michigan loss in 2011 and the New Hampshire loss in 2009.
The only thing that could lessen the blow was if Minnesota, the filthy, no-good Gophers, could lose to Union College in the title game. The alternative was a tough world to live in for me. Any crap talking between UND and Gophers would end with “thanks for the boost on the way to UMN’s 6th title in 2014” and I’d pretend it didn’t sting, but it would. All I can say is thank you Union College. You’ve made me a fan by taking down the self-appointed “Mecca” of college hockey. The fact that some Gopher fans are downplaying the title loss makes me believe that Minnesota sports have began to believe they aren’t ready for a championship trophy that doesn’t have the word “Lynx” on it.
This is not taking anything away from Union, they played like a pit bull on raw meat. Every rebound seemed to cause Dutchmen(by the way I believe I’m partly Dutch and am somewhat offended) to swarm to the puck. They were the deserving team to raise that trophy as they seemed possessed to win the title from the drop of the puck to the final horn.
When you recap the year, it was a great one filled with unbelievable moments that this team has given me. They’ve given me another year of living my hockey aspirations vicariously through the Sioux(read about my hockey “career” here). A couple of weekends that stick out for me this year are:
-St. Lawrence series in November that allowed a mental break, albeit short, from losing someone very important to me and even more important to my loved one. This week/weekend put a ton in perspective about where college hockey ranks in the grand scheme of things, trust me it’s WAY down the list.
-The Bemidji State game in Bemidji for my botched “surprise” birthday that many of my friends/family attended with me followed by a great weekend at the lake cabin.
-The Miami 9-2 route that had me so happy I was pounding on my future mother-in-law’s floor.
-The trip to Duluth to watch the boys continue their dominance in Amsoil Arena and experience Grandma’s Bar with good friends and watch Luke Johnson come into his own.
– Sitting(actually standing) in a suite at The Ralph Engelstad Arena with my parents and 8-10 of my best friends for the 1st round of the NCHC Playoffs. One of the best parts was the electric Schmaltz game-tying goal on Saturday, despite the disappointing result in overtime.
– NCHC Frozen Faceoff watching the 5-0 win over WMU and then watching the boys make the tournament in dramatic fashion when the Badgers knocked off the Buckeyes in overtime.
– Watching the NCAA Regionals at Izzy’s Bar and Grill and being one of the only 2 people cheering when UND scored and going nuts when Gaarder sent us to the Frozen Four.
I guess my thesis is that no matter how the season ends it’s always a great ride with a lot to be thankful for and as always…
LET’S GO SIOUX!