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Seven Year Itch

10 April 2018

Yesterday was the 7th anniversary of the first national championship. So much has changed since then!

I went back today to look at the coverage I provided (I use the term loosely, but I serve a niche market – and my niche I mean more like a little sliver) in 2011. There was… certainly more content back then. Also I was still writing on blogspot at the time; I think I made the switch that summer. Some of those posts have some wonky formatting and a lot of the pictures and videos didn’t port over. Maybe I should hire an intern to clean up my archives.

As I said yesterday, things are different this time around. Not just in hockey, but in my own life as well. In April 2011, I didn’t know I was 7 months away from quitting my job, returning to school, moving to Duluth, graduating from tUMD, and moving back to the Cities.

Oh man, needling Bruce is a time honored tradition. From the moving to Duluth post:

Radio voice of the Bulldogs, Bruce Ciskie, merely groaned in annoyance and rolled his eyes, then returned to writing his 1000-page tirade on officiating.

Back on topic. The 2011 season was so strange. tDogs closed down tDECC (with a superb victory over Denver) and opened Amsoil Arena (with a disastrous, glass-shattering scoreless affair against the Racist Mascots). Dylan Olsen left the team during the break, almost directly after I won his final game at the DECC jersey and asked him to stay one more year. So that was awkward. My dad won Trent Palm’s jersey in the same auction, and wore it at the national championship game. After Saturday’s game, he sold the jersey to a guy in a giant foam cowboy hat from Alaska who really wanted it. So we’ll probably never win another national championship game ever, if you believe in jersey karma.

palmjersey

The sign was very popular.

tUMD started that playoff run with a home sweep of SCSU, including a triple OT game that was payback for the 2007 season-ending 3OT loss at the National Concrete Center, then laid an egg in the conference tournament by losing to Buttmidji. I guess stinking it up in the conference tournament is a strategy for winning a national championship? Get that last loss out of the way before it’s too late? Whatever, it worked, although they had way more wiggle room back then. Many ten-thousandths worth of wiggle room, rather than just the one.

tUMD was shipped out east to play the Racist Mascots of New York, and I missed the whole game because it was a day game (the #1 seed, Y6le, chose the night game I guess) and I worked. Back then Twitter was not nearly so robust (nor nearly so corrupt/bot-ful), so it was hard to get a sense of the game. I even remember a time before unlimited texting, when I worked nights and my dad had to call my work number to get score updates. Meanwhile, this year I was able to stream the regional semifinal on ESPN3 “The Tres,” and while it wasn’t great quality, it was an upgrade over sporadic texts. While tUMD shut out Union, they needed OT to dig out of a 2 goal deficit, and needed to score “twice” in OT in order to win. (Note: I understand why the first goal came back. It was still a wacky finish.)

tUMD then beat the #1 seed in the region (and, I believe, the overall #1), Y6le, in rather aggressive fashion. This year, they didn’t even get a crack at the #1 seed, St. Cloud (also the #1 overall), because their coach decided to quit on them and they were too distracted for the hockeys. They faced Air Force in a close-on-paper, domination-in-reality game. I watched the Y6le game at MeanEgirl’s house with Biddy and her (and I think Yager?); they weren’t even married at the time! This year, we drove out to Fighting Hawks Falls for the regional final and watched in person with Rachel, Biddy, and Dan of the Week.

When tUMD rolled into St. Paul in 2011, it was gorgeous and sunny, which complimented their lovely, bleach blonde hair. In solidarity, I also dyed my hair, with disastrous results that took months to correct. This year, the weather was totally crappy, and the Dogs and I had normal hair. Well, I have normal hair, I can’t really speak to the rest of the guys’ hair choices. 2 of the other teams from the Frozen Four, Notre Dame and Michigan, decided to show up in both 2011 and 2018. The third 2011 team doesn’t exist anymore, but their replacement, the Fighting Hawks, chose to stink it up in the regular season, rather than in the Frozen Four. This year, Michigan made it without any extremely controversial goal calls, unlike their regional semifinal in against UNO 7 years ago (sorry Susie, too soon?).

In 2011, the first semifinal had 0 titles between the two teams, and the second semifinal had 16. This year the first semifinal had 1 and the second semifinal had 9. tUMD played in the first semifinal both years, and it was extremely relaxing to know we were in the title game while watching the second. This year, I didn’t really care about the outcome of the second game. We could play the Potato Farmers, or we could play the One Song Wonders. In 2011, it was a choice between the One Song Wonders or 18,000 drunken hicks who pin their entire self worth to the success of their men’s hockey team screeching in my face. It was nice that the One Song Wonders took care of them in hilarious fashion, freeing up tickets for Dogs fans and removing the threat of violence both on and off the ice.

Both times, we faced Notre Dame, but in 2011, we faced them first. We were both 3 seeds then, while this year our semifinal opponent duhOSU was somehow a one seed (and had knocked off potential juggernaut Denver, thanks fellas). The Big 10’s insular schedule really helped them appear better than they were – it certainly helped Notre Dame absorb a loss to freaking Sacred Heart in Catholic Bowl 2017. We raised our banner in front of Notre Dame that fall, too, in our first home series. So fortuitous, so impolite, so awesome. I forgot that tDogs played from behind twice in that game. I also forgot that Notre Dame had an actual leprechaun on the team at that time, TJ Tynan. No such luck this year, as Notre Dame brought only Brobdingnagians this year.

Ohio State had their own Colossus of Rhodes, Dakota Joshua, he of the two first names. He actually sounds like he should be playing for Denver – it is a very Denver name. At one point we had to get Tufte to get him in line.

Speaking of Denver, the 2004 Denver semifinal was on everyone’s mind back in 2011. tDogs gave up a SHG in the 3rd period of the semi against Notre Dame, and it felt like it was going to be that DU game all over again. At the time, I said:

The Leps took the puck all the way to the other and and into the Bulldog net, and then fear took over and I was unable feel any sort of confidence or hope we were going to hold the lead.

Leps = Leprechauns, obvs.

My friend Brad said in the comments he thought the same thing.

Ditto here. I swore it was 2004 all over again. In the 2004 Frozen Four UMD had only lost once when leading going into the third and then last night ESPN gave the same stat for this years team. Notre Dame scored and I thought UMD’s goose was cooked. I was so nervous.

Here in 2018, we have a new frame of reference: winning Frozen Four semifinals. I don’t think I ever once thought about that DU semifinal. Since I was not watching on TV, I didn’t see them talking about stats or how tUMD was undefeated in the last bajillion games when leading after 2, so I did not have to worry about statistical jinxes in either of the games. Don’t get me wrong, there was plenty of worry about Ohio State, especially because they were coached by a double agent, Steve Rohlik.

While tDogs didn’t face Michigan this year, it’s funny to note that, directly after Michigan lost to tUMD in 2011, Mel Pearson became head coach of the Michigan Tech Huskies. This season was his first season back at Michigan, after abandoning Tech. Side note: MeanEgirl got herself blocked by Mel during the semis this year. He’s very sensitive.

I re-read my final post before the championship game and my heart dropped. So much has changed, but so much is the same.

Win it for your old captain, Andrew Carroll. The consummate hard worker, who willed himself and his teammates to be better. Win it for him, as vindication for that Miami game.

It’s amazing that his legacy lives on so brightly in this team. Back, then, those guys had been his teammates. Now, we have Tufte, who he mentored. Our Kaptain, Karson Kuhlman, wore #20 this year and I have to say without a doubt, he did that number justice.

Win it for Dick Stewart. Win it for his windsock and his dedication to the youth hockey players of Duluth. Win it because you bought your gear from him. Win it because he lost his vision at a Bulldogs game.

Dick Stewart is gone this time around. We miss him, his windsock, and his love of polka. We’ll always love Dick.

Win it for Hoagie. Because there’s no one more dedicated, more caring, and more invested in you guys than he is. Win it for all he’s given the program for so many years.

It’s still true, and the guys still understand. (PS click those links and check out that photoset by Maddie MacFarlane.)

tUMD never trailed in the 2018 championship game. In 2011, they trailed for much of the game, playing only 8:15 with the lead, until the end. Until the snow angels. This year, we watched the minutes tick away, willing the clock to run down to zero and the puck to stay out of the zone, off the sticks of the Shiny Helmets, and out of the back of the net. We also hoped in vain for some scoring in a period other than the first, but the two first period goals would have to do, yet again. It’s funny how similar the games in 2018 were, when it felt like the 2011 games were all so different.

My previous post about this year’s game was a diary of my experiences on gameday, and I wrote a similar one in 2011. I played hockey that morning – hadn’t gotten into running yet. I forgot that I had a very strange postgame locker room experience with a UNO fan that year. Shudder. I ran on the treadmill this year to get my energy out. In 2011 the pregame festivities were at McGovern’s, but this year they were at Tom Reid’s. Either way it was a total sardine can disaster.

Our celebration in 2011 was much more, um, violent than it was in 2018, but that’s to be expected when it’s an OT win. We didn’t know at the time that Jared Thomas’s Love’s Baby Soft-sponsored goal would be the game-winner. How weird to win a national championship in regulation. I didn’t cry as much either; I did cry a bit when I saw Thomas immediately skate over to get Roth at the end, and I cried when I read this quotation from Blake Young:

In 2011 I was basically a screaming mess.

Postgame, we went to Tom Reid’s (ugh, so much free advertising) and watched the Wild game. They scored a lot of goals. My BC/BU/UW friends arrived and the Sharks fan among them was unhappy about the game, but the rest of the bar was enjoying the game. The Bulldogs game was replayed on ESPN U after some downer documentary about Pistol Pete Maravich (so funny that Mackay actually uses “Pistol Pete” as his Twitter handle, wonder where that comes from), and we stayed until the second goal was scored, then left. After the Michigan game, fans congregated at Reid’s again, but we watched the whole game and sang the Beer Song and all kinds of other things. It was much warmer that day so it felt a lot more fun to party.

The team went to Bennett’s Chop House for their own party – I didn’t go either year. In 2011 I didn’t know about it, and in 2018 I opted not to go. It turned out to be swarmed with people since the secret was out, so I’m glad I didn’t go. That’s for the players and their families and friends, not for creepy bloggers.

By this point in 2011, Justin Faulk and Mike Connolly had already signed pro contracts. So far, no one is bolting the team, which is good. Maybe everyone who can will return. Maybe our beloved Squirrel will stay on another year somehow. I’m sure the “Family Advisers” are swarming like flies, and of course I want everyone to do what’s best for themselves, but like… it’s always best to stay at tUMD. Always.

I can’t wait to write another compare/contrast post next year, when tDogs go back to back and I go over Niagara Falls in a barrel to calm myself before the championship game!

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.

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!

And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going

25 March 2018

tUMD 3, Purple Cows 2 (OT)/tUMD 2, AFA 1

This team. Oh man. They just will not quit. They are taking every bit of luck that’s come their way, and are making the most of it. They might be playing with house money, but they sure as heck aren’t squandering it.

Imagine going back in time to early December and telling your past self that tUMD would be in the Frozen Four.

back-to-the-future-2-old-young

Basically.

I am still adjusting to living in St. Paul (was my time in Duluth just a dream?), so this past week, I wasn’t as anxious as I normally would be leading up to a regional. On Friday instead of worrying about the games, I was talking to an exterminator. Karmic retribution for being a completely obnoxious jerk to UND fans is bed bugs, I guess. I’ll take that trade! Especially because it means 1. I don’t have to host anyone for the Frozen Four because who wants to stay at Casa Bedbug? and 2. someone else is footing the exterminator bill so I just have to tough it out a little longer.

Not my favorite distraction, but I’ll take it. Friday I watched from home, and I mean the term “watched” loosely because ESPN3 the Tres was not great and also I was frequently afraid to look at the television. It seemed like every time the screen froze up, Mankato scored.

I felt sort of numb and resigned during most of the game, since Zebediah Springfield and Ian Scheid scored in the first period and it seemed like we would never score ever again in the entire future of the sport, but when Karson Kuhlman scored, I was temporarily jolted out of my funk. But then it just seemed like absolutely nothing happened in the game for like… ever. When Nick Swaney scored with just over 4 minutes remaining, I started to think things might start to go our way.

Then, overtime. Possibly one of the oddest overtimes I have ever seen, outside of the “puck through the net” situation between Air Force and Vermont (side note: the primary assist on that goal was from a former tUMD recruit, Wahsontiio Stacey). tUMD appeared to win on Nick Swaney’s second goal of the game, but instead it was reviewed and called back for goalie interference. I guess that was a good call? I didn’t see it. I immediately panicked, thinking tUMD wouldn’t be able to settle down, and Mankato would take advantage and win. And they nearly did, except the puck bounced off the butt of one of their players, who was in our net. And then tUMD scored for real, on this insane goal from Parker Mackay.

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The REAL game winning goal, by Kelsey Lee from Violent Turtle Photography.

For some reason Blake Young was basically flattened in the background and no one cared in their rush to celebrate. I wasn’t clear on what happened besides a collision, but fortunately he and whoever crashed into him are ok

Of course we had to pack up our bedbugs (not really, we put everything we brought in the dryer before packing, and used plastic bags rather than our usual luggage, to minimize chances of contamination) and head out to Fighting Hawks Falls for the Saturday game. If it had not been my first week in the new office, I’d probably have gone Friday night, too, but it wasn’t to be. The drive is very dull, and we were very fortunate the game was at 8 PM central, because it had snowed in southern and southeastern MN overnight and apparently the roads were really bad in the morning. Way to go, MnDOT!

Biddy, Rachel, Dan of the Weak, and our SCSU fan friends Erik and Erik’s Dad were already in Fhawks Falls, so we met up and attempted to get food. Our first attempt was Sickie’s, which is apparently delicious. They had at least a 45 minute wait. So did the Granite City next door. So did the BW3 near the arena, which we drove to. So did the next 5 places we called from the BW3 parking lot. It turned out that everyone was just squatting on tables to watch pumpkin pushing. We then drove to a Five Guys, thinking there’s no way it would be busy – but the parking lot was full! We drove around downtown, looking for a place to eat, but then even when we saw places that might have tables, we couldn’t find a parking spot. We finally at literally 7 PM, 45 minutes after we were turned away at Sickie’s, found counter spots at a diner and had delicious food. Biddy ordered something called a beermosa, which was Coors Light and orange juice, and claimed it was delicious. Rachel had a mint Oreo shake, and when I tried to order that, they told me they were all out of mint. I had chicken and waffles instead, and inhaled it.

We arrived at the arena just in time, and were in our seats at puck drop, essentially. I was in the upper deck, front row – and across the aisle from me was Bruce Ciskie, broadcasting away! Hilarious. If there was any screaming on the broadcast, that was me. Or Bruce.

The first period was all tUMD. Air Force could not get out of their own way. It was INSANE. I have never seen a hockey team screw up that much, even in a Little Chippers game. I could not understand how St. Cloud lost to them. They did not record a shot during the entire period. Even when they had an opportunity to shoot, a grade-A superopportunity, they screwed it up by making a bad pass or whiffing or missing the net. It was worrisome in the sense that Shep hadn’t made a save, and we could end up in one shot one goal territory if something went awry. tDogs scored 2 in the period, one by Joey Anderson and one by Nick Wolff that went in and out of the net so fast I didn’t realize it was a goal.

And then tUMD hung on. Going up 2-0 and then creating very little offensive excitement is a recipe for… a Mankato-like ending, basically. Fortunately, we were not playing ourselves, and were playing Air Force. Their only goal came in the 3rd, with what I would consider to be Way Too Much Time Left, on a loud noises PP (two guys racing full on to beat an icing/get an icing, tangled up, late whistle, and them boom, the AF guy falls and then hits the boards). They were able to pull their goalie fairly early on (1:42 left, although it felt like longer!), and tUMD was unable to get an empty netter to calm things down. It was incredibly stressful, but tDogs did enough defensively to get the win, celebrate as a group, and then skate over to celebrate with the fans.

Now we know that we’re the last hope left in the galaxy, tDogs have 2 weeks to prepare to humiliate the Small Seven. I am excited. I am not sure if I’m glad that I can enjoy the Frozen Four and then go home to my bed each night (there will be no more bedbugs by then), or if I am dearly missing living in Duluth and enjoying the camaraderie of the community.

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We’re going to the ‘ship! Photo by Kelsey Lee of Violent Turtle Photography.

I can’t believe it. Two more wins and tUMD will be national champions. Let’s turn 0.0001 into 1.0000!

Significant Figures

21 March 2018

One ten-thousandth of one ratings percentage index point. The razor-thin margin that put tUMD in the NCAA tournament as the final at-large bid. Against overwhelming odds, in a bizarre scenario in which all things went tDogs’ way off the ice when absolutely nothing went their way in the ice, tUMD will be in Fighting Hawks Falls on Friday, facing off against former conference foe Minnesota State.

This is an unbelievable opportunity, and while I know tDogs are anxious to prove that they have more hockey left in them, that they have more to show us than what we saw last weekend, I have a different message.

Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think
Enjoy yourself, while you’re still in the pink*
The years go by, as quickly as a wink
Enjoy yourself, enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think

*please note that in this context, “in the pink” means healthy, perv

Go out there and have a good time playing hockey. Don’t think too hard about this. You worked hard and played well and won lots of games to put yourself in this situation. Don’t let pressure or expectations or fear or impostor syndrome (do men even have that?) get to you. Go out and play hockey and try to win a game. And then another game. And then another one. And then another one. You’ve already done that twice this season. Why not a third time? And you probably won’t even have to play Denver, they’ll probably choke in the first round.

I won’t be in Fhawks Falls to see you guys play on Friday (first week in the new office, second week in the new house), which means you have to win, so that I can come see you guys on Saturday, which means you have to win again. No pressure; I know that the mere idea of my presence will be a powerful motivator.

The great news is that of the 3 teams in the regional, you’ve beaten two of them. (Never mind that they have also beaten you, that is somehow irrelevant. I would explain it to you but I suspect most of my readers are not well-versed in quantum mechanics.) The even greater news is that there will be significantly fewer beet fanatics flipping you off and thumping their chests while shouting their former nickname at you. (Or, more likely, at me. I endure a lot on your behalf, guys.) The somehow even more super greater news is that I bet $5 that you would win it all and I like money. Again, no pressure, it’s only $5, and I haven’t even given the money to Dan of the Week, so I can always renege!

Like a Rolling Stone

11 March 2018

Next week, when the UMD men’s hockey team heads to St. Paul for the NCHC Frozen Faceoff, I’ll be going with them…

…and I won’t be coming back.

After four and a half years living in Duluth, I’m leaving. Starting on Tuesday, I’ll be a resident of St. Paul. Ultimately, it is a good thing (I have a great new job opportunity, but it required relocation), but leaving here is going to be so hard. It’s only two days away, but still doesn’t feel real.

When people find out I live in Duluth, their response is almost always “Oh, I love Duluth!” This is the same response I had before I moved here, and while I still love Duluth, it’s not a starry-eyed, naive type of love anymore. My love for this city is much more complex than it was before I was a resident.

It is considerably more fun to be a Bulldogs fan in Duluth. I loved sleeping in my own bed every night after hockey games, instead of going back to a hotel, or a friend’s spare room, or even worse, hopping in the car and driving two and a half hours back to the Twin Cities after the game. It was fun to see Riley Tufte at the movies, or Blake Young at Perkins, or Bill Watson in the elevator at work. It was neat when I was going to tUMD and would see Meghan Huertas or Sammy Squirrel Spurrell in the corridors; I even had a class with Catherine Daoust. It was nice to drop in at UMD Stores on campus for the balloon sale, or attend a special weeknight season ticket holder event.

It was fun to be able to attend high school games and other collegiate games. A high school friend of mine ended up returning to teach at UWS, and she and I attended several UWS women’s games. I went to high school section games, and saw my friend Hunter score his first high school hockey goal this past winter. It was also nice to be able to watch some away games on My9, even though I’ll be moving away just as they finally get the channel in high def. It was incredibly cool to see the Curling Club on TV during the men’s curling finals, and to hear the community buzzing about Maddie Rooney and Sidney Morin.

The ugly truth that many in Duluth don’t like to admit is that we don’t like hockey that much, collectively. There are dozens of outdoor rinks, and lots of kids that play hockey, but the men aren’t filling the arena every night, and the women seem to draw the same number of people no matter what (actually, they are likely drawing fewer people, since they play Friday-Saturday instead of Saturday-Sunday). It seems I’ve been proven right once and for all: Shannon Miller wasn’t the reason people stayed away.

The silver lining to this dirty little secret is that it doesn’t really matter if this city isn’t hockey obsessed. There’s actually more to life than hockey. I know it’s hard to believe! Especially for someone like me who appears to have structured her entire life around hockey. To the point where I deliberately scheduled my move for the week between the quarterfinals and the NCHC tournament. But obsessive fandom is only sustainable for so long. While I used to be almost painfully early to games, now I’m quite fashionably late to almost every game, much to the chagrin of The Aaaahj. I sometimes even miss games to do stuff like buy a house or run 31 miles.

Beyond hockey, there’s a lot to love about this city. The lake, whether it’s a full moon reflecting off it when it’s still, or whether it’s crashing against the shore during a storm. The Superior Hiking Trail, threading its way through town, providing wilderness in the middle of the city. Miles and miles of bike trails. Beautiful old houses. Walking along the red bricks of Superior Street downtown during the first snow, feeling like I’ve gone back in time 100 years. Mild summers where all we need is the lake for air conditioning.

But then, there’s also the Marches. And Aprils and Mays, when it’s warm everywhere else but here. In a way, May is the best month in Duluth: the college students have gone, but the tourists haven’t arrived in full force yet. Although with the number of youth hockey tournaments held here, it seems like tourist season never ends. It doesn’t take long to adopt a townie mentality, I am here to tell you. One Grandma’s Marathon weekend or move-in day and it’s all over.

Most people look at Duluth as some kind of hippie liberal paradise, and I suppose if you never leave downtown/Canal Park, it might look that way. But you don’t have to stray too far from the tourist attractions to see the other reality of Duluth; poverty, drug abuse, homelessness. A city split literally down the middle into the haves and have-nots. The “plausible deniability” brand of racism that is typical of the Midwest, locals decrying the “people from Chicago” who are bringing drugs and crime to the city. Environmentalists and union members at odds over two of the main industries in the region: energy transport and mining. Congressional campaigns waged over who likes guns more.

We came to Duluth in September of 2013, intending to stay for a few years while I attended tUMD (after becoming a Gopher reject myself, I guess karma for calling them my safety school back in 2000), and then moving back to the Twin Cities or wherever I could find a job. By the time I graduated, it looked like we were going to stay indefinitely. My time as a student at tUMD was amazing: even as a non-traditional student, I felt like I fit in; I got an amazing education in the same halls as my parents, my uncle, and my aunt; and I found a fantastic internship that turned into my full-time job. My grandparents moved back here permanently, my dad moved to Pike Lake, my uncle is looking to return as well. Often times I can’t believe I’m leaving. The movers are coming to start packing tomorrow morning, and yet it still doesn’t seem real.

If this all seems maudlin and melodramatic, it is. It’s not like I’ll never be back – I’ll be back in May, if not earlier. I haven’t slain Tybalt. It’s just hard to imagine that Wednesday morning I’ll wake up in a new house, in a new city, with a new body of water mere blocks from my house. Like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone.

What About Bob?

8 March 2018

Today is International Women’s Day, and it’s also the third day of the Shannon Miller v. The Regents of the University of Minnesota trial. It’s probably a good time to bring up something that isn’t sitting well with me.

Last weekend, four people were inducted into the UMD Athletic Hall of Fame: golfer Tom Waitrovich, longtime multi-sport volunteer Dale “Hoagie” Haagenson, women’s hockey legend Jenny Potter (who played under Miller), and former AD and football coach Bob Nielson.

I really don’t understand inducting Nielson into the HoF at this time. I know a lot of the hype around the lawsuit, from pro- and anti-Miller sides, focuses on Chancellor Lendley Black and AD Josh Berlo, but the alleged systemic issues that led to the discrimination lawsuit pre-date both Berlo and Black.

Black’s predecessor, Kathryn Martin, testified on Tuesday. The Duluth News Tribune reports:

Martin acknowledged that she was protective of the women’s hockey program, and that she asked Black to continue those efforts. She said Miller had the support of former athletic director Bob Corran, but his successor, Bob Nielson, was “hesitant about pushing too hard for equity in the women’s hockey program.”

This is unsurprising and unremarkable, in the sense that there are hundreds of men in AD positions around the country who are hesitant about pushing too hard, or at all, for equity in women’s sports. If you require me to cite a source for that, all I can say is I’m sorry you’ve broken from reality and wish you well during your in-patient psychiatric treatment.

The DNT continues:

The university maintains that the December 2014 decision to let her go came as a result of her declining performance and an analysis that showed a cost-per-win well in excess of rival head coaches as UMD faced a budget shortfall.

This was elaborated on in a subsequent article:

Donald Chance Mark Jr., another attorney for Miller, turned the discussion to one of the factors subsequently cited by UMD in its decision: a financial analysis prepared by Berlo showing that Miller was paid about three times as much per win as the women’s hockey head coaches at Minnesota and Wisconsin during her final four seasons.

This is somewhat off-topic but is a perfect example of what women have to face in their fight for pay and resource equity. No one ever questions that perhaps Johnson and Frost are underpaid. When Tony Granato was hired at Wisconsin to replace Mike Eaves, Johnson became the senior coach, with significantly more proven success in the job, but Granato makes nearly twice as much money as Johnson does. Why doesn’t Johnson press for pay equity? Rumors that Johnson was marking time in the women’s job until the men’s job became available (only to have Eaves stick around long enough that Johnson’s window of opportunity passed) would make it seem that he views his job as inferior to the men’s head coaching job, and that he in fact deserves to be paid less. Of course, he’s never stated this to me, so I can only speculate. We need coaches and administrators, regardless of their gender, to be tenacious in their pursuit of equity.

No one can ever say Miller was not tenacious in her pursuit of pay equity, and she was fortunate to have Kathryn Martin in a position to support that and to pay her a salary comparable to her peer (since tUMD plays up in hockey but is actually a D-2 school, Scott Sandelin is the only coach who was truly her peer in this sense), but, according to the lawsuit, she faced retaliation for her actions in this regard.

Many of the details that first emerged when the lawsuit was filed are disturbing and speak to a hostile work environment. But did that hostile work environment appear overnight in 2013, upon Berlo’s hire? Or was it a continuation of what was already occurring under Nielson’s watch?

Nielson is not going to appear in court, but may have been deposed for testimony, according to Tom Olsen of the DNT, who is covering the case.

I question the decision to induct Nielson into the Hall of Fame before this lawuit has been decided. It would be in extremely poor taste to honor him in this way, only to later hear in court that Nielson was complicit in the retaliation or workplace harassment Miller experienced during her tenure. UMD should have waited until a decision was reached in the lawsuit, and then gone through with the induction if it was still appropriate.

I know there are lots of people out there who don’t like Shannon Miller and who found her either personally or professionally grating. I am here to tell you that it does not matter if you don’t like her, or think she’s annoying, or if she wasn’t sweet and nice and meek, or if you’re a disgusting subhuman cretin who hates women’s sports and thinks they don’t deserve any funding or support – it is not acceptable to use gendered insults, or insults related to her sexual orientation, to express these feelings in the workplace. (It isn’t acceptable in any arena, but it is illegal federally [on the basis of sex] and on a state level [on the basis of sex and sexual orientation] to behave in this way in the workplace.) And people in authority (like, say, athletic directors) have a responsibility to ensure they themselves are not discriminating against employees on this basis, and that their employees are not being harassed on this basis by their colleagues. And until this trial is concluded, it was ill-advised for UMD to have honored someone who may (or may not) have been in a position to allow discrimination or harassment to fester.