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Come Along and Ride On a Fantastic Voyage

7 April 2018

Slide, slide, slippity slide.

This season is a gift. There’s no other way to describe it. In 2004, 2011 and 2017, there was nothing particularly improbable or out of the ordinary to the way those seasons unfolded. While it was agonizing to see tDogs lose in Boston and Chicago, and elating to see them win in St. Paul, this season is in a class by itself.

This season is so surreal it could have been written and directed by Jean Cocteau. It’s already been covered in depth, from the losses to graduation and professional leagues, to the significant figures needed to squeak into the NCAA tournament, to the 2:28 of whackadoodle overtime play in the game against Minnesota State. Ceci n’est pas une saison.

At the end of October, when the women were already struggling and the men were on the verge of a really bad stretch (and had already lost to a Canadian team and played atrociously against Bemidji), I started to worry that the players wouldn’t have enough time to become the team I imagined they could be. The passes that connected and the plays that were perfectly executed during the spring were now ever so slightly out of tune, like a peg on a violin that slipped a quarter turn. I wrote:

The season started a bit rough. The men lost back to back games (against MTU and Bemidji, which was depressing and horrid for the PWR) for the first time in the history of the universe, and the women are in the midst of their worst start ever. The goaltending is at times questionable, in ways I haven’t seen in a very long time. More experienced teams with more balanced rosters have preyed on the inexperience of our teams. This sucks. But we have to be patient, because these players are talented. They’re U18 veterans. They’re drafted. They’re stars. We can all see the individual strengths on the ice – we just need to give them time to put things together. I really do believe that if everyone sticks around a few more years (rather than jumping ship if this season ends in the same disappointment with which it began), both of these teams are going to contend for national championships.

I’d just like to brag about what a great hockey mind I am here, though not so great that I could see these guys were talented enough, patient enough, and smart enough to scratch, claw, kick, and bite their way into the national championship game for the second year in a row. Goaltending settled down. The power play came together. The injuries healed (or healed enough). Last year’s “role players” became this year’s leaders. This year’s leaders set the tone for the team, just like they had seen their teammates do in prior years.

I feel differently about this championship game than I did about 2011, or about last year’s. In 2011, with no national championship banners in our rafters, I felt so tense and anxious. Last year, tDogs were rolling in the NCHC playoffs but in the NCAAs, the overtimes and the late goal against Harvard made every game nerve-wracking.

This year, I entered two bracket challenges and picked tUMD to win in both of them, which I never do. Because why not? Why shouldn’t a team who backed their way into the NCAAs by the skin of their teeth win a national championship? I stopped thinking of all the reasons why tUMD couldn’t win, and started thinking that maybe they could win.

Maybe they won’t, of course, I’m not crazy enough to think that Notre Dame is a cakewalk just because they waltzed through the Big 10 (even if they did lose to Sacred Heart). Maybe tDogs will have an off game, or Notre Dame will have the game of their lives, or it’ll be a knock-down drag-out affair where someone has to win and it just doesn’t happen to be tDogs. I just know that I sat serenely during the second semifinal on Thursday, grateful to have the early game so I could kick back and relax, and shrugged whenever I was asked who I’d prefer to play. It didn’t matter – tDogs can beat any team in college hockey, even Denver. It doesn’t mean they will, but I believe wholeheartedly they have a chance.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still going to be a nervous wreck when the game is underway. But right now, I’m just having a blast. I’m taking my own advice and relishing the journey, rather than only the destination. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a fan who will only be satisfied with a national championship – to feel no gratitude or delight in a season that doesn’t end with a win on the last day of the season, and to, under the very best of circumstances, have my expectations merely met. This season exceeds my wildest dreams, and I am happy to have endured an excruciating loss to Buttmidji and five painfully close losses to Denver in order to get to this moment.

I know tDogs aren’t as popular as they were in 2011, when they were the plucky upstart who rose from obscurity (not really) to an overtime win on a goal by a hometown hero. It’s funny how success has transformed them from a cute little brother into a bully, despite playing the same style of hockey, with the same team complement they always have. That’s okay; if this is what happens when your team transcends years of mediocrity punctuated with flashes of brilliance, I’ll take it. You’re all still welcome to get on the trolley. It’s going to be fun, and you might as well cheer for the Doggies. What choice do you have? It’s us or the racist mascots! Just roll with it.

Let’s go, Doggies! It’s time to take that 0.0001 and turn it into 1.0000!

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Dawn L permalink
    7 April 2018 12:24 pm

    Well said my friend! Tonight’s game should be exciting to say the least. I am relishing the opportunity to be there is person, enjoying the game and the team I love with new friends and my better half. Gotta give him credit for tolerating my craziness during the season and my impatience during the rest of the year. Dogs fans are one of a kind and whatever the outcome we will hold our heads high! Emotions will be running high, especially with the lodd of AC earlier and the seniors playing their last collegiate game. Cheers to the Dogs, the coaching staff, Hoagie, AC and his family, those fans from the state of hockey supporting the only MN team left standing. On a sad note, thoughts and prayers to the families and players from Humboult following the horrific accident yesterday. As a hockey family it broke my heart reading the story. And please everyone drive safe home afterwards. As always, great post and hope to see you later, celebrating a tremendous season!

    • 7 April 2018 2:52 pm

      I am feeling so sad about the Humboldt Broncos. I considered including them in my post but it felt wrong to do so. I have not felt like this since the terrible Lokomotiv plane crash.

  2. Puck Swami permalink
    8 April 2018 10:17 am

    Helluva game, helluva season, RWD.

    We were cheering on the Bulldogs here in Denver at the Pioneer Sports Bar, and it was a bittersweet experience. DU went 7-0-1 against the UMD and Notre Dame this year, with more than enough talent to win it all. But at the end of the day, your boys were the ones with the magic pixie dust, and our hats are off to you for doing what our boys could’t do…

    Sandy really knows how to get the most out his players, and UMD plays the game the way it’s supposed to be played, with the fire and passion of youth, but with also the discipline of knowing how to play in the lulls of games.

    Kuhlman’s goal, I think, personified who he is – a leader’s goal – breaking in on a defenseman, finding just enough room to get a shooting lane and then blazing a heater right over Morris – cool, straightforward, clinical finish of a guy who has been there before and knows how to set a tone for the rest of his guys to follow. When he scored that goal, I just knew UMD would win…

    By the way, there is a good chance a bunch of us Denver fans are coming to Duluth next year when DU is in town to play UMD, including a few fans that you know…:) There is going to be a fundraiser for a former Pioneer player we know from the 80s who lives in Duluth, whose wife recently died of breast cancer, and they have four kids (ages 8-16). A lot of his old DU teammates will fly in for that weekend, so Grandma’s better be ready…

    Anyway, enjoy your celebrations. Your team is a treasure, and did the NCHC proud.

    • 8 April 2018 2:03 pm

      Looking forward to seeing you in Duluth and attending the fundraiser (unless it is a $500 plate affair, I do not have the deep pockets of a DU alumna)! Thank you for the kind words. I know you DU fans are used to going back to back, it must be tough! 😀 Playing all season with those weighty expectations had to be difficult on the team. They should still be very proud of their season – other than a certain loss to a certain Ivy league team, hehe.

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