This is how Thursday went before the Michigan game:
- I had to get up at 5:15AM to guarantee I'd make it through Chicago traffic to O'Hare in time for my flight
- There was no Chicago traffic. I got to ORD 2.5 hours early. My flight was promptly delayed an hour and a half.
- When it finally took off, we had an Olympic-level screaming kid (6-ish?) who went off intermittently for the next 2.5 hours.
- Heading to the arena, my brother opted to leave his GPS in our hotel room. Consequently, we got horribly lost for 45 minutes and didn't get to the Pepsi Center until halfway through the first period of BC/NoDak
- I dropped my soft pretzel on the ground.
In between periods of North Dakota/BC, I ran into a friend of mine from the MMB, then met up with a friend from undergrad at Michigan and another friend who went to BU for law school, so things were looking up there for a minute.
Then the first period happened. Seated a row behind Joy Berenson and a row in front of Brian, I didn't know what to do. The game started with Michigan getting good pressure, even if they didn't have anything to show for it. This left me worried, to be honest. I think Sauer's the kind of goalie who needs to see a few harmless shots early to get his head in the game. The first goal was a great move and a nice shot from Ridderwalle, but it left me worried about our team getting settled. The tournament had seen a ton of teams score one goal and then another while its opponent was still reeling from the first. Sure enough, ND scored another quick one. I began thinking about our first game against the Irish, how we were outplayed in the first but clawed our way back for a win. The third goal was like a horrible dagger. A 3-0 hole is almost impossible to escape.
Hogan coming on for the second was a decision I completely agreed with, and you could see the way the team rallied around him, and the Michigan contingent that had been shell-shocked by the first period livened up. We didn't get the quick goal like we had in January, but we started to climb back into it, despite Notre Dame's defensive commitment. Chad Kolarik got us on the board first, and we counterpunched with a Matt Rust goal just 15 seconds later.
It was Chad again early in the third, tying it up and sending the Michigan crowd into a frenzy. Still, Kevin Deeth's goal halfway through the period, putting the Irish up 4-3, seemed inevitable. But we had over 9 minutes left to go, and Carl Hagelin got the lucky bounce that had eluded us all night. He threw the puck at the net and Jordan Pearce left just enough room for the puck to deflect off his skate and into the net. There was a moment of dumbfounded shock and then: ecstasy. We only needed one more. Just one more.
But Notre Dame had the legs and we didn't. After we couldn't get anything off a late powerplay, the game slipped into overtime. After the full 15-minute intermission, the Irish came out blazing. In the 5:44 played in OT, the Irish took 8 shots to Michigan's 4 and spent a ridiculous amount of time in the Michigan zone as our exhausted defenders couldn't clear the puck. Finally, Hogan made a good initial stop, but the rebound landed between the circles on Ridderwalle's stick. He didn't miss.
- Brian mentioned it too, but the bands were ludicrously placed at the opposite endzone from where their fans were seated. This had to be deliberate; since we saw it at all three games. Friend of HSR Mike goes to every Frozen Four and said that this was the first time he'd seen an arrangement like that. Does anyone know why the NCAA did this and how to get them to stop?
- Both bands were miked and broadcast through the speakers at center ice. This made for weird phasing in the arena and things like the ND band being amplified as they heckled Sauer. Oddly enough, they never forgot to cut our band's microphones.
- As per usual at the Frozen Four, neither band was allowed to play until there were only two minutes left in intermission. Instead, NCAA promos, trivia, and "Ask Myles Brand" videos were up on the jumbotron. I hate this policy. Unless you're Colorado College, you have a pep band, so there's no good reason not to let them play. If the NCAA is worried about unfairly favoring one band, block out 5:00 for each band during the first intermission and reverse their order during the second one. The NCAA still gets 3:00 for their promos and we get to hear Blues Brothers. Win-win-win.
I've sent an email to the NCAA asking about the placement and the intermission policy. We'll see if they respond.
Another thing Brian wrote about was how the Frozen Four acts as an annual convention for people who love college hockey. After the games on Thursday, and again on Saturday, I went to the bar with fans of Michigan, BU, North Dakota, Michigan Tech, UNH, Maine, Alaska-Anchorage, and Wisconsin. From Thursday through Sunday, it seemed like anywhere I looked around Denver there was someone in North Dakota gear. Around the arena I saw people in the following team jerseys:
St. Cloud State
I saw the entire WCHA represented, all of the CCHA but Western and Northern (though I did see a guy in a Northern sweatshirt), 70% of Hockey East, and a few other teams. Had I seen the Wayne State jersey after the game, I would have bought the poor guy a drink. A wide variety of NHL jerseys were also represented, along with a few more random jerseys: A Jim Craig "Miracle On Ice" one, two from Syracuse, an Illinois, a Soviet team jersey, a Hasek Czech Republic jersey, a Pacioretty one from juniors, etc. Michigan Berenzweig, Halko, and Nick Martens jerseys were also sighted.
Even though we didn't pull it off, I was proud of how our team responded over the final 2+ periods of its season. And I managed to have a better time in the Mile-High City after we lost than I'd been having before it. I hung out with people I hadn't seen in years, met new people to drink with, watched three college games live and three NHL ones on TV, geeked out at Wings Over the Rockies, and headed out into the mountains for a couple hours before my flight home. Not a bad experience.
Most of the people who had been in the Michigan section showed up for the championship game on Saturday night. As people drifted off after watching Boston College easily deal with a much shakier Notre Dame, you heard a common refrain: "Next year in DC."