Twas A Hockey Night In Pittsburgh…

Yale celebrates their first national championship in men’s hockey. (taken from ESPN.com)

When I first found out that Robert Morris University was the host university of the 2013 Frozen Four, I was excited.

Who wouldn’t be? Especially at a small institution like this, it’s a huge deal to host the collegiate national championship – regardless of sport.

What made it even more interesting and intriguing were the narratives surrounding the four participants. Quinnipiac, UMass-Lowell, St. Cloud State, and Yale all arrived at CONSOL Energy Center without a Division I national championship in hockey, and Yale was the only school out of the four to have a Division I national championship in any sport – those coming before you and I were born.

Each team traveled different paths to get to Pittsburgh.

  • Quinnipiac started the season unranked in both the USCHO.com and USA Today polls, but finished the regular season as the number one overall seed. 
  • UMass-Lowell was the only team out of the four to start the season ranked (7th in both the USCHO.com and USA Today polls), and was the only one to win their conference tournament.
  • St. Cloud State came in as the 13th (out of 16) overall seed and defeated both of their regional opponents by a total of seven goals (in two games).
  • Yale was the last team to claim an at-large bid (seeded 15th), knocked off the second overall seed Minnesota in overtime, 3-2, before advancing to the Frozen Four with a 4-1 victory over powerhouse North Dakota.

With four – for lack of a better term – “Cinderellas” in the field and how far they were located from Pittsburgh (Yale being the closest, located 8 hours and 6 minutes away from the Steel City according to mapquest.com), I had a slight worry about attendance going into the actual games. But even though the combined attendance of the three games (53,040) was at its lowest since 2005, the atmosphere more than made up for it.

UMass-Lowell’s fans were loud throughout the first game, and the St. Cloud State faithful were well represented in both their semifinal contest and the national championship. But what really took the stage was the game last night between Quinnipiac and Yale.

Separated by merely eight miles, Yale and Quinnipiac’s ever-growing rivalry was pushed into the forefront after they both won their semifinal games. The two teams met three times already in the season, with the Bobcats defeating their fellow ECAC foe every contest. Quinnipiac was confident they would take down the Bulldogs in the fourth chapter, and even chanted “We Want Yale” in the closing seconds of their semifinal victory.

For 39 minutes and 56.5 seconds, it looked like that would eventually come to fruition  Despite the scoreboard showing a 0-0 stalemate, Quinnipiac held a slight edge in both the statistical categories and on the ice from the casual observer’s eye. Then Yale’s Clint Bourbonais redirected a pass between Hobey Baker finalist Eric Hartzell’s legs, and the Bulldogs took all the momentum and a 1-0 lead into their lockerroom for the second intermission.

Yale would ultimately win 4-0, but that score doesn’t indicate close and exciting the game actually was. The Bulldogs’ goals came from two five-hole shots, an open breakaway, and an empty netter. Hartzell didn’t play his best game of the season, but he gave his Bobcats a chance at the title. It just so happened that Yale goaltender Jeff Malcolm was better tonight.

My experience at the Frozen Four was nothing short of amazing. I admit that, in terms of my favorites, hockey would fall in fourth of the four major sports (although I’d rank its professional league in third far above the NBA), but I thought of this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and treated it as such. Like I mentioned at the beginning of this post, it’s exciting to be the host of a national championship regardless of sport.

From greeting people before Tuesday’s open skate to when the lights went off in the office last night, I soaked every moment of this in. As a child, I fantasized about working on the biggest stages, and to make those dreams that come true is truly unbelievable. I can’t say enough how much Robert Morris University has blessed me with the opportunities to live out some of my dreams – not only from the Frozen Four, but working in collegiate athletics in general. I’m not sure if I would have gotten the same kind of breaks if I went somewhere else.

I come from a very small town (population 1,095 according to the 2000 Census), so when I am “rubbing elbows” with someone like ESPN anchor John Buccigross, it’s a very big deal to me. Not every day does an Everett resident get to work a collegiate sporting event, let alone a national championship. Not every day does someone from my area get to walk the halls of CONSOL Energy Center’s employee area, let alone the place where current stars like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin take the ice. I apologize for coming off fanboyish, but this kind of stuff is rare for someone like me and where I’m from.

So when the final buzzer sounded and the Bulldog bench flooded onto the ice, I couldn’t help but put on the same smile they had on. It wasn’t just a signal of a national championship in New Haven; it also signaled the end of a great event put together by the university, the Pittsburgh Penguins, and the rest of the Frozen Four staff. And being a part of these kind of affairs will never get old.

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