13 April 2009

The Way We Were

Yes, I know. It has been an unacceptably long time since I last posted, and unlike other season's finales, there's been a ridiculous amount of GOOD content about which to write. If you cared, I am sorry, but the end of the season gave me a lot to sift through and it deserved my full attention. Even now, though this post is more like a novel, I feel like I haven't done it justice, but it's a try.

I don't know of any Bulldog fan who on some level was not ready to pack it in after the UAA series. I mean, some were entirely ready to do so or had already, while some remained cautiously optimistic. I had a post kind of already plotted out in case something terrible happened, which I sort of remember now, weeks and eons later. It certainly felt as though we were headed for another futile, Fitzgerald-esque off-season. You know, "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." Another mediocre finish.

Instead, we got one of the wildest finishes to a season that could possibly be imagined in the drug-addled hallucinations of a schizophrenic.

It started in CC. I was actually rather pleased that we had drawn CC rather than any of the myriad other teams we could have played. Yes, we'd only played them once, but we'd played them at home and had totally rocked it. In fact, it was the only team we had fared well against away from home.

tUMD scored 7 goals in those two games and never trailed. It was incredible. They played in a commanding fashion and despite CC's best attempts to kill our players, the Bulldogs swept them into the off-season. Travis Oleksuk burst onto the college hockey scene, and Alex Stalock made an impossible-looking save, as he is wont to do.

God, was that ever a long time ago. Almost a month ago, to be exact. I was incredibly depressed that I couldn't go to the games in CC as I had to work.

The days before the Final Five seemed tortuously slow. On top of that, the crazy PWR-heads had crunched some rather terrifying numbers: there were multiple scenarios in which the Bulldogs would still miss the NCAA tournament. Funny how we'd gone from lookin' good to almost surely out to possibly back in it within a few weeks. Pretty indicative of the season as a whole.

The play-in game was probably the most terrifying game I'd attended, simply because I was almost entirely surrounded by Gopher fans. It ended up not being that bad though, as all the UND fans were cheering against the Gophers, which meant they were cheering for tUMD. I also saw a group of St. Cloud fans in their jerseys with print-outs of tUMD's logo pinned to the fronts. Dirty and MEg both donned UMD gear as well. I have never seen them look more attractive.

I don't believe in fate or destiny, but when I look back on that weekend, I have never seen anything go so right in my entire life. Certainly not for a team that I follow.

It started off well. Gopher goalie Alex Kangas had was fighting off the flu (whether it was influenza or the oft-mislabeled gastroenteritis, I don't know nor do I want to) and it was unclear if he would even play, but he's a gamer and so he was out there. Barely three minutes into the game, Kangas misplayed a rebound and MacGregor Sharp scored the first goal of the game. The UMD fans in attendance, as well as the Gopher haters, made the Xcel sound fairly loud. Five minutes later, UMD found themselves two men short for slightly over a minute, and I really started to stress. Penalty killing had not been a strength over the season, and though they had been must better in CC, they had given up a 6x4 goal and a 6x5 goal. tDogs managed to kill it off, and went into the locker room at intermission with a lead. The Gophers came out in the second with Patterson in net and Kangas on the bench, apparently too sick to continue. The second period saw the always hard-working Matt Greer put the Dogs up another goal, but despite the best efforts of my dear friend and our DanceMania antics, I could NOT calm down. In the third, the Gophers scored early on a weird deflection type goal, which would be the only goal to beat Stalock that weekend. Then I REALLY stressed. The clock could not POSSIBLY go any slower. Once time started running out, I kept one eye on the play and one eye on Patterson. tUMD managed to control play enough that the Gophers couldn't pull him until there were 38 seconds left, and still the Gophers nearly had a great scoring chance, if not for the brilliant hooking penalty Andrew Carroll took, which could not be assessed before time ran out.

The first task completed, tDogs now faced possibly a more daunting prospect: they absolutely needed to win one of the next two games in order to guarantee entry into the NCAAs, and they had to face a team on a roll: UND. Allegiances changed: UND fans were (of course) cheering against tUMD, while only the bitterest of Gopher fans stayed off the UMD bandwagon. I really stressed, again. This was overall a very stressful weekend for me!!! In addition to the games, I had three exams, and I actually skipped the Friday afternoon game to study. Or to attempt to study, as I was terribly distracted.

Stalock recently edged out UND goaltender Brad Eidsness for the WCHA goaltending title by an incredibly slim margin, so many touted it as a battle to see who really could claim the title. Eidsness decided he wanted to show he could beat Stalock at his own game, and while Fonzie was in the box serving a too many men on the ice penalty, Brad went behind the net to play the puck and made a blind pass to MacGregor Sharp, who quickly tucked the puck into the net before Eidsness could finish crapping himself. Mike Montgomery added another hard-working goal in the first period, and the Dogs had a nice lead at the end of the first. Of course, I was still stressed out, but you know me. In the second period, Brady Lamb was handed a major penalty for kneeing Matt Watkins. I went home and watched the game again on my DVR, and I will tell you folks, it was not a kneeing penalty. Watkins came off the bench and skated right into Brady Lamb, who is clearly going after the puck. He makes an odd leg motion, but if you look closely, he's trying to accelerate, not trying to take out Watkins, who as I already said, skated right into him. Watkins was injured, which was unfortunate, but not every injury in hockey is a penalty. UMD killed the major penalty in a textbook manner, and the only subsequent goal was an empty netter from Mike Connolly, who popped his jersey and made a bunch of people get their undies in a bunch. I have no problem with the jersey pop, as long as they're popping the front and not the back. I was so excited after the game I looked up at DHG in the club level and screamed "WE'RE GONNA DANCE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

Saturday came. The day of reckoning. tUMD was essentially playing with the house's money at this point. I was taking a ridiculously hard test and then another test that was not as hard and then I made it over to see the rest of the UW/DU game. And of course, despite everyone's logical arguments and soothing platitudes, I was stressed out. I was probably not helping myself because between periods at each game, the only other person in the building more stressed out than I came over and we probably ended up stressing ourselves out MORE. Although it is nice to have someone who understands me!

No play-in game winner had ever won the Final Five. No team had ever beaten Denver in the Final Five. tUMD had never won the Broadmoor trophy in the current fashion. A pessimist could say the odds were stacked against them, while an optimist would say it was a perfect storm of opportunity. We had die-hard Gopher fans wearing tUMD jerseys. Everyone who mattered was cheering for the Bulldogs, excluding the DU fans, who had an excuse.

I can't even recap the game because it was just so incredible. UMD was... dominant. MacGregor Sharp was dominant. ALEX STALOCK WAS DOMINANT. Gwoz pulled Cheverie fairly early, in a typically gutsy Gwoz style move, and I remember thinking "GET SHARP ON THE ICE." And of course he was, because he's always on the ice in that situation. Mike Connolly got the puck and brought it up ice and, because he is an incredible guy who plays on an incredible team, he passed the puck to MacGregor Sharp who sent it into the open net for a hat trick. The roar in the Xcel was incredible. You would never have known that only about... oh, maybe 15% of the crowd were wearing UMD gear. I didn't leave the arena until the last Bulldog had left the ice.

The only thing left to worry about, tournament-wise, was where UMD would go. They had secured a 2-seed, pole-vaulting over UND to be the second-seeded WCHA team. Wisconsin was the last man out, and the Gophers just behind them. The selection show was pretty cool, as UMD was one of the only non-#1 seeds that got any attention, and Barry Melrose even picked them to be in the finals, which some people said was the kiss of death but he also picked BU, and they won, so it was hardly that way. Once I found out that tUMD would go to the west regional, I was THRILLED.

Days of plotting ensued. MEg and I spent two nights making posters (we made over 20) and togas, and eight of us suited up and headed over to the Miami-DU game. We made friends with the Miami band, which apparently offended the INCH people, but they were very nice. We were fickle in our allegiance. Or as MEg says, allianceship. An incredibly battered Denver team got bounced out, and we prepared ourselves for our Bulldogs.

UMD scored first, which felt so nice, but Princeton scored three times unanswered, and the UMD faithful started to stress. Just as I was running downstairs to give Sioux-cia her ticket (she was very late), Brady Lamb decided it would be a good time to get his first collegiate goal. Bless you, Brady, you have amazing timing. Princeton scored again shorthanded, and we were down by two goals. It was pretty sad. I refused to let the UMD fans get out-cheered by the Princeton band, so every time they started a cheer, I started one. If we were going to die, we were going to die with our boots on. So to speak.

I can not even describe the impossibility of the final minute of the game. Every time I watch it, it seems more impossible. Here, you can watch it, too.



See what I mean? I don't even know if I knew what happened when Oberg scored. I just know it was like being attacked by an octopus, because everyone was hugging everyone. Togas were falling off. Signs were being ripped. The overtime goal was great, but it was just overshadowed by the game-tying goal.

The next night was heartbreaking. There was controversy, of course, but ultimately UMD lost the game and the season ended, and now Cascalenda, Carroll, Gergen, Greer, Kemp, Meyers, Sharp, Oberg, Stalock, and maybe others will never suit up for the Bulldogs again. It's hard for me to even think about. But they have left a legacy and they have left behind some incredible players who will remember this past season, who will remember nothing is over until it truly is, who will remember what these guys who are leaving have passed on to them. But I also don't want to take anything away from the guys who will come back next year, as they were an integral part of the successes of this season.

I didn't think, when I watched the Frozen Four games, that it would be so hard. I kept thinking how much I wanted the Dogs to be there. It's amazing, however, that they came so close. Bittersweet.

Don't worry, because RWD is going to be open for business for the summer. And don't worry, ladies and gents, because the most popular RWD post of the year is on its way.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Absolute luck that you even made it to the regional championship game. And lets face it,your luck ran out and you got beat by a much better team in Miami of Ohio. I was very impressed with the way they played in the Frozen four. They got robbed by Boston. The championship should of been Miami's.
I hope Lamb comes back next year so he can get his clock cleaned for his cheap ass kneeing penalty on Watkins in the Final five. All in all the Dogs had a nice season. Sharp was an impressive player and deserved some national recognition. I think with all of your player losses, however, you will face an uphill battle next year. Just my opinion.

Anonymous said...

Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda. Hey, is Stalock comming back or is he gonna attempt to take advantge of his 1 week of glory(aka..standing on his head) and try his luck in the pro's? Good luck with that!

Goon said...

Is your font getting smaller on your blog or are my eyes going bad?

If only UMD had beat MU, BSU and UMD would have been a much better match up in the Semis than a MU and BSU. Oh well...

Runninwiththedogs said...

As previously addressed in this very blog, the "kneeing" penalty was hardly intentional. People who merely read the stat sheet need to re-read my analysis of the incident in question. Watkins came off the bench and ran into Brady, who was skating for the puck. He will most certainly be returning next year and will be an excellent defenceman.

Anonymous said...

Imagine that, your analysis is that it wasn't a kneeing penalty. I was sitting with a clear view of the infraction. Here's my analysis... CLEARLY a punk, cheapshot, classless move on Lamb's part. May have ruined Watkins chances of continuing his hockey career. Don't be such a homer, have some credibility and call it what it is.

Anonymous said...

I agree with previous post. It was obvious that Lamb knew he was beat, he did what thought he had to do to stop Watkins. Lamb has all off season to think about it. If he's forgotten by next season, he will certainly get re-reminded when they play the sioux. Just my two cents.....

vizoroo said...

Glad to see you are back. And you know I'm eagerly and impatiently waiting the WCHA Hotties.

Despite the comments from the hostile and abusives, tUMD had an unbelievable run in the Final 5 and played Miami with heart and deermination.

But next year.....
GO DU !!!

Dirty said...

I bet if Don Adam was the ref he would've called Watty for diving.

Runninwiththedogs said...

Don't worry Viz, I have not forgotten about you and all of your helpful input!

Anonymous, I'm sure you are an expert in all things hockey related, but unless you reveal your identity I will not bow down to your clearly superior intellect and experience.

Watkins ran into Lamb. Not every injury in hockey is a penalty. Thanks for reading!