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We Can Be Heroes Just For One Day

9 April 2018

Though nothing, nothing will keep us together
We can beat them, forever and ever
Oh, we can be heroes just for one day

There’s nothing like watching one’s team win their first national championship. I know this now, because I’ve seen my favorite men’s team win their second.

It feels different, and not just because it was a regulation win rather than an overtime surprise, or because it was unexpected after the team’s turnover and their challenging start. In 2011, the team accomplished something that didn’t seem possible. This year, despite the myriad way this title seemed beyond the team’s reach, we all knew it was possible simply because it had happened before. Improbable, sure, but not impossible.

Much has been made of how UMD got in on the slimmest of margins, and how they were playing with “house money,” having far exceeded the expectations fans and media had in September or December. I can’t speak for anyone on the team or the staff, but as a fan, it helped me relax a little. I mean, I was still nervous during the actual games, but I didn’t live in perpetual terror for a three week stretch like I did in 2011. For the first time ever in my history of bracket participation, I chose UMD to win it all in not one, but two brackets, one of which even required me to lay out $5. I told Dan of the Week I wasn’t going to pay him, because he’d just be giving me my money back. (Note: he did on Friday, because everyone else picked either Fooking Denver or Mankato [why??] to win, and Notre Dame to lose in the final, so the tUMD win against duhOSU sealed the deal for me.) Never in my life have I been so cavalier about such an important game.

That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t feel amazing to have watched this team battle their way back from a loss to the University of Alberta on September 30th, a goaltending rollercoaster for the next few series, a player quitting the team, a tragic loss of a former captain and mentor, a complete inability to beat Denver, a less-than-stellar showing at the conference tournament, and on the eve of the national championship game, a catastrophic accident in the SJHL that deeply affected players and fans alike, especially UMD players whose friends were among the injured or lost. And there are likely all kinds of private setbacks and misfortunes we will never know about, that the players, coaches, and staff had to work through to get to this moment.

I hate to be maudlin about such a joyous event, but that’s how Saturday started. I spent Friday on Cloud 9, barely getting any work done before leaving to join a group of friends from BC/BU/UW/NU for lunch, but by bedtime, all my attention was focused on the Humboldt Broncos, and I woke up hoping somehow there was better news, that the early reports had somehow overcounted the number of victims. The national championship game didn’t matter as much; I felt a profound sorrow for a bus full of people I’ve never met. I hadn’t felt like that since the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl tragedy. The players, staff, fans, and families of the Broncos were never far from my mind or my heart yesterday.

After a quick run on the treadmill to try to calm my nerves, followed by a venti latte to get them zapping again, we headed down to Tom Reid’s (ugh, why, it’s so crowded, stop hosting stuff here!) at about 3 PM. My dad, brother, aunt, and uncle had been there since 2 to watch golf (why??), so they had a table; otherwise it would have been TS for The Aaaahj and me. I stayed there until 3:45, when my aunt and I headed out for the red carpet (while everyone else stayed back to drink beer and my uncle ate the last two steak bites). My aunt is new to Bulldog fandom but she is an awesome person who is up for anything, so I was glad to not have to go alone. Although I could have just squeezed my way up to the front where Bruce Ciskie was, blocking everyone’s view with his tallness. No, Bruce, we all understand, you don’t often get an opportunity to see the players or talk to them or congratulate them, by all means, get right up front.

The red carpet was held at the “main” entrance to the Xcel, on Kellogg and 7th, which is also the most annoying entrance to the Xcel. The red carpet was WAY too short, so people were lined up 5 or 6 deep. Last year, the red carpet was way more spread out (and wasn’t on a busy street!) so more people could give high fives and the effect was overall more dramatic. Once the bus arrived (about five very cold minutes after my aunt and I got there), the street got blocked off and we moved into the street to get a better opportunity to cheer as everyone passed. My aunt moved in for the high fives but I hung back and cheered because I prefer to admire from afar. Everyone seemed to be having a great time and they were really pumped up by the fans. No one more so than Jarod Hilderman, who is rising in my esteem and will probably be one of my faves next year. Sammy “Spurrell” Squirrel won best dressed in my opinion, as always. Canadian men are way better dressers than American men, on the whole.

After that we returned to the Tom Reid’s Hockey City Sardine Can and hung out for another two hours. I was able to see a few other Bulldog fans including Flippy Cup Superstar Matt, Brett the Scientologist, and Lisa, the Vice Chancellor for Monitoring RWD to Make Sure She Doesn’t Get Out of Hand. I also saw Wade Bergman, Tim Stapleton (I think), Carson Soucy, and Kyle Osterberg. Oh, and better-than-Schloss beat writer Matt Wellens. We finally left at around 6, so we could be in our seats and ready to go with plenty of time. Be it known: for the final two games of the year, I was on time.

The crowd was mostly pro-Bulldog with some potato farmer fans thrown in here and there. Last year was way more even – I’d guess since it was a more “neutral” site and also because we had so many people clutching and grabbing their pearls about Neal Pionk. I found myself nostalgic for the DU band and their carousel music, because the Notre Dame band is really annoying. They appeared to have been admonished by someone for their nonstop playing, including long stretches when the puck was in play. I understand that they are allowed to basically do whatever they want because of OMGRUDY and FOOTBALL and SUBWAYALUMS, but it was pretty much BS they were able to get away with it in the semis. They also brought some stupid guy dressed as a leprechaun, because they are all huge racists who don’t understand that Irish are people, not mascots. At one point the leprechaun was admonished for jigging in the aisle, which was a Great Moment in Ushering History, except that he wasn’t ejected from the game.

The game was exciting. And terrifying. First Kobe Roth went down after some leprechaun flung him into the boards, causing him to break his ankle. Fhawks fans likely are still screeching that it was a dive, because they are unable to think for themselves and probably saw on a Sinclair affiliate station that tDogs are a bunch of divers. So the bench was shortened immediately, which made me anxious, since the 4th line has been playing so well together, and tDogs would either be left with 3 lines or someone double-shifting. It wasn’t ideal, but I guess I should have just trusted in the Kaptain, because he was up to the task.

When Karson Kuhlman scored while playing on one of these aforementioned double shifts, neutral fans were like “boom, game over, tUMD wins,” but of course as a non-neutral fan, I was like “OMGWE’RELEADINGWHATIFWEBLOWTHIS.” It was so exciting, though! It did feel good to get that first goal. They waited a little longer to start the scoring, as the first goal was 9 minutes in rather than, like, one second into the game or whatever happened against duhOSU. I am sure that’s accurate so I won’t look it up.

Instead of scoring at the opening of the period, tDogs flipped the script and scored at the end of the period, when Jared Thomas (who scored both of our GWGs at the Frozen Four) made the recently anointed Richter award winner look like… well, like he’d been tending goal against the lesser teams in college hockey, which he had been all season. Then Notre Dame took a penalty! Unfortunately tUMD didn’t get the brainwaves I was sending them from atop section 215, because they didn’t spend the final 18 seconds of the period passing the puck amongst themselves in order to get the full two minutes of PP in the second period.

At intermission I went to talk to my lovely friend from Battleford, Sask., who was charging her phone and trying not to barf from anxiety, same as me. She was as far away from me as possible in the rink (opposite corner, lower level), and so many people were either standing directly in my way or walking stupidly. WALK WITH A PURPOSE OR GET OUT OF THE WAY. That is how you traverse a crowded arena. Or anywhere. We spent most of the time talking about the Broncos’ bus crash; it was on the minds of most everyone in the arena. She told me some additional details, including the story of Nick Shumlanski, the Broncos player whose family lived only a quarter mile from the scene of the accident, and whose father was one of the first people on the scene.

I made it back to my seat just after the start of the second period. I guess 18 seconds didn’t really make that much of a difference, because they didn’t score, and then they didn’t score on the penalty called almost directly after the first PP expired, although they did have some ok chances. Notre Dame got a similar back to back PP situation and they did manage to score on it, but apparently they can only score on the PP (Jordan Gross admitted it, even!) so that was it. The goal was reviewed for offsides, but I don’t know. I guess I could watch the TV replay and see if there was anything there, but that would mean having to listen to Harassmentigross babbling on in his desperate-to-remain-relevant-and-cool way. A couple minutes after the goal, a Notre Dame player felt the time was right for a knee on knee hit, which was reviewed as a possible major, but only warranted a minor, apparently. I was approximately one billion miles away from the ice so I can’t say one way or another. Again, I’ll have to re-watch. That occurred at the 10:02 mark, so almost exactly halfway through the game. Absolutely nothing happened after that. I think. I might have blacked out.

During the second intermission I went to hang out with Biddco, MeanEgirl, and other assorted characters. I don’t remember what we discussed. Beer, maybe? Because they were serving it at the Frozen Four! An unexpected delight for many. I guess the NCAA finally decided the potential financial gain was more important than their Puritan sensibilities. Or maybe tDon getting shoved out was the final piece of the puzzle. Who knows? Anyway, it happened. Oh, also I discussed wig care and maintenance with new tUMD fan* Hummus Loser. I think the intermissions were actually about 75 minutes long. Can anyone verify?

*I can only assume he’s fully cast off the bondage of SCSU fandom thanks to this glorious win.

In the 3rd period, I just kept waiting for that patented Notre Dame goal. Apparently they have a knack for scoring late or in OT, just like tUMD had a knack for scoring early and then clamping down. I wasn’t sure that was going to hold, since the potato farmers had scored so early relative to AF and the pot leafs. And also due to the maddening and perplexing ways that tUMD managed to avoid clearing the zone. Okay, the outcome of the game is all that matters but holy crap this zone clearing situation has been a problem for like 2 years now. Let’s fix that for next year and win another championship, mkay? I mean yes, eventually the zone was cleared, or the puck frozen, but wow, way to make it interesting! I suppose the progression is OT win –> one goal win –> blowout win? Let me check my frame of reference, since we happen to have a program with FIVE national championships… OH DEAR GOD THE THIRD CHAMPIONSHIP CALLS FOR 2OTs.

I checked my heart rate via my fitness tracker at one point, when I was sitting down and not even cheering or clapping or yelling or screaming, and it was 110 bpm. Such a healthy pastime.

Notre Dame pulled their goalie with 1:28 to go, which felt like actually 1:28:00 to go. tUMD promptly iced the puck and took a time out. My understanding of what transpired during this time is completely different than what actually happened. tUMD held Notre Dame without a shot during this entire time, but of course to me it felt like tDogs were constantly in danger. There were multiple chances for tDogs to get empty netters and seal the deal, and I really, really, wanted to cheer for another goal (especially if Kuhlman had gotten it during that first chance – holy crap is his conditioning on point), but it wasn’t to be. Instead, the clock eventually ticked its way down to 1.5 seconds, when the Bulldogs iced the puck, and we had to sit through a delay to determine how many seconds needed to be added to the clock. Then they added 20 minutes, which was extra hilarious. Then Justin Richards was kicked out of the faceoff, to which my brother said “Well, you know that was going to happen.” Blake Young took the final face-off and tDogs won!

Really, it was almost anticlimactic. Almost. But it’s not really fair to compare it to an OT win. And I did not want OT, I wanted to win in regulation. And I got what I wanted, as I usually do. tDogs piled into the other corner at our end, with Jared Thomas almost immediately skating away to go retrieve Kobe Roth and bring him out to celebrate. We got down to ice level as quickly as possible to go pound on the glass and scream and yell and celebrate with other fans.

I think this team is fantastic from the stars down to the guys who didn’t play on Saturday. Two of the guys having the most fun on the red carpet were Ben Patt and Jarod Hilderman. Many news outlets are using photos of Squirrel or Nick McCormack celebrating with the trophy (whoever started the tradition of dressing the scratched players for the celebration was brilliant). Avery Peterson was skating around with Hoagie and gave him a big smooch (check out Maddie’s whole photo gallery, it’s great) (also was this like kissing a peanut?). Squirrel came over to celebrate with Biddy at one point, as he knows Biddy is one of his biggest fans. (I am his other biggest fan but don’t have a distinctive hat.) Kobe “Midget” Roth shook off any doubters who thought he couldn’t produce against “real” competition, showed up at tUMD without his former Warroad linemate (the decommitted Jared Bethune), and battled injuries to make the final lineup. Jade Miller, who watched from the stands last year, assisted on the first goal of the night. Hunter Shepard watched from the stands last year and sealed up tUMD season records with this huge win this year. Jared Thomas, who seemed to be cracking the lineup based solely on his face-off winning ability in previous seasons, scored both game-winners in the Frozen Four. Blake Young, who willed his way into the lineup midway last year, took the final face-off, and had the most Saskatchewan moment ever in the postgame presser when he said the guys “played their balls off.”

The postgame fan experience was so much fun. I joined up with all my nearest and dearest to cheer: Biddy, Dan of the Week, Ben the Official GIFer of tUMD hockey, Rachel (who had amazing seats behind the net), Abby (soon-to-be Mrs. Dan of the Week), MeanEgirl, The Aaaahj (obviously), Bruce Jr., and of course a bunch of strangers who were instant compadres. Our friend Erik spent 10 minutes screaming through one of the camera holes in the glass for someone to bring the trophy down to our end. “RILEYYYYYYYYYYYY. BRING THE TROPHY DOWN HEEEEEEEERRRRRE. BRING THE TROOOOOOOOOOOOOOOPHY!” Scott Perunovich gave a young kiddo his stick (after Erik almost knocked the kid over). My BC Interruption friends even gave me my own celebratory chant (it’s a long story, but the gist of it is I am very important and special) before we headed out to Tom Reid’s (ugh, whyyyy) to celebrate, watch the Wild game, and then watch a bit of the NC replay (once Thomas scored, there wasn’t any point in staying) before going home to attempt to consume the avalanche of media created around the game, and to try to go to sleep (I think I went to bed at 3 am? It was a bit early but I’m old now). We tried to order a gyro pizza but the place was closed! So it meant we had to use our oven for the first time since moving into our house! How terrible. The Aaaahj overcooked the pizza. And then we forgot to eat the celebratory tiramisu I had purchased the day before during my excursion to Moscow on the Hill with the BC RWD Interruption crew (who, by the way, heeded the unexpected requests from tUMD players to bark at the game on Saturday)!

This new era of Bulldog hockey is a marvel. Stepping back and looking at what has been accomplished over the last decade is staggering. The 2008-09 season was a turning point for the program, and it’s only fitting that this championship should be dedicated to one of the members of that program. The improbable run of that team, winning the WCHA playoffs as the lowest seed and winning the regional semifinal by what seemed at the time to be the slimmest of margins, paved the way for this championship. tDogs turned 0.0001 into 1.0000.

It was hard to capture in words this ephemeral moment, already slipping through my fingers as I sit at my desk and pretend to work (I work for Canadians, they understand) while I sign off this gargantuan piece that has taken me a whole day to write. I’ll celebrate again tomorrow when I head up to Duluth for the reception at Amsoil Arena, and then close the book on the season. We’ll see who remains and who goes, and we’ll show up in October to raise a banner and look at each season that comes with a new understanding, that anything is possible as long as there’s one ten-thousandth of a chance.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Loren Lapsitis permalink
    9 April 2018 9:54 pm

    Wonderful article! You are officially “The Team That Killed The Big Ten”. I saw all the wins in the NCAA tournament and as a Sioux fan I say well done. Let’s hope you don’t repeat (selfish) but at least make it to Buffalo.

    • 10 April 2018 8:38 am

      That would be crazy! 3 Frozen Fours in a row? But why the heck not? I need another trip to Niagara Falls!

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