The Gathering, Part II

Thursday, April 6th, Noon

Thursday is my favorite day of National Championship week. Why? Twice as much hockey!

The pressure is intense for these teams, which have come so far and are now just a win away from playing for the national championship. To get to Providence and then go home after just one game must be devastating.

So excitement is the air as the USCHO staff makes its way over to the Civic Center. We’re now joined by GM Jayson Moy (armed with his digital camera), Jim Connelly, Mike Machnik, and Adam Wodon, who will bop in and out of our lives for the rest of the weekend. Adam will manage to appear for all the games, but still spend significant time at his job with the AHL’s Philadelphia Phantoms. No sleep for Adam.

We settle in for our pre-game meal, and, to be honest, we’ve all had better. Nominations for the best food? Any games at Worcester, and my personal favorite, the Bradley Center in Milwaukee.

I guess I’m now a full-fledged member of the press — grumbling about the food.

We’re still short one regular — Becky Blaeser will arrive later in the day, making the circle complete. That’s 10 USCHO staffers, if you lost count. We plan on a media blitz, with at least four features plus notebooks for each game, plus pieces on the Humanitarian and Hobey awards.

However, the Civic Center has a small press box, and even expanding it two rows into the stands still leaves many media people without a seat. USCHO has four reserved seats in the press box, and we have a few seats in the stands. The rest will have to fend for themselves.

Jayson is fair about it, and rotates things so that most everybody has at least one turn in the box. Mine will come during the Boston College-St. Lawrence game. Until then, I can fight for a seat in the limited “press overflow” section, or watch the game on TV from the media center in the basement.

I opt for the “media overflow” area and settle in to watch the first semifinal.

2:00 PM

I have only seen Maine and North Dakota on television this season, so I’m watching this one intently.

After covering D-III most of the season, the difference is apparent to me about five minutes into the game. The very good D-III teams like Middlebury and Norwich have some talented forwards, most on the smaller side, that could skate with the major D-I programs. But the goaltending and especially the defense is so much better in Division I.

In D-III, the better defensemen are actually the little guys who were deemed too small for D-I. There aren’t too many big, mobile defensemen in D-III, meaning more scoring chances for the forwards.

Watching the speed of the NoDak forwards, I can imagine what they’d do to a team with smaller or slower defensemen. As it is, their speed and transition game are giving Maine fits. Both goals come off Sioux players breaking down the wing and just blowing by a defenseman.

And speaking of size, the tallest of the North Dakota goaltenders is 5-8. I’m impressed with Karl Goehring, who is doing a fantastic job of playing the angles. He’s giving the Maine shooters the far post and upper parts of the net, and then taking them away at the last second.

When you’re playing against a smaller netminder, there’s a temptation to think “high” all the time, and that’s what the Maine shooters are doing, sending a lot of shots over the crossbar.

So in the end, no repeat champions for another year. Why this was made a big deal this season as opposed to the last 28, I’m not sure, but it was all you heard about when Maine was playing.

5:00 PM

The NCAA agenda for the postgame press conferences is different for the semifinals than for the championship game. In the semifinals, the winners go first, and Dean Blais and his players say and do all the right things. Blais is posed some pretty inane questions (“You won a lot of faceoffs today. Does that happen a lot?”) and still manages to provide thoughtful answers.

Shawn Walsh is a class act. He refuses to get into topics that he says would take away from the great game North Dakota had played. He doesn’t want to talk about missing Cory Larose, or the apparent missed interference call on the Sioux’s first goal. No sour grapes from a team obviously disappointed at not getting a chance to defend its title.

There’s even a light moment at the end of the press conference. Walsh mentioned that his team had gone 0-6 on the power play. As he got up to leave, Dave Fischer, the press conference moderator, ever the perfectionist and stat junkie, announced to the media audience that Maine was actually 0-7 with the man advantage.

“Gee, thanks,” quipped Walsh to chuckles from the press. “Couldn’t you have at least waited until I left the room?”

7:00 PM

I’m settled into the press box at last, laptop connected, ready to go. I’m a message board junkie, so during warmups I surf over to see what’s up. The excuse I have is that I moderate the D-III section, but really I just can’t stay away.

Dave Hendrickson, sitting to my right, leans over and glances at my screen.

“Geez, you have no life,” he says.

“I’m just moderating the board,” I reply.

“You’re posting!”

He’s got me there.

Pops is a writing machine. He’s got about 12 features in the works at any given time, and is bemoaning the fact that he just might have to cut back to actually eat and sleep this weekend.

We get about two square feet of room each in the press box, and Dave’s notes are stacked several inches high. He’s starting to get frustrated.

“I’ve got this stuff on this,” he’s muttering. “And that stuff on that. And now I’ve got this stuff on that stuff!”

Paula and I just look at each other and roll our eyes.

7:35 PM

There’s a lot of good things about media credentials: Access to the games and participants, free food, etc. But my favorite?

There are restrooms in the press area. Just for us.

I ponder this as I walk past a men’s room at the Civic Center and count 45 guys in line just to get in the door.

10:00 PM

It was a great game. BC got goals from its three Hobey finalists plus Blake Bellefeuille, who was the best player on the ice. St. Lawrence did the ECAC proud and almost pulled it out.

Joe Marsh just doesn’t want it to end. You can tell he has a special bond with this team, and he spends his time in the press conference talking about the past four seasons instead of the game he just lost. It’s touching, and humorous because, after all, it’s Joe Marsh.


The USCHO folks are still at work in the bowels of the Civic Center. Paula is putting the finishing touches on her game recap, I’m working on the notebook section, Jayson is editing pictures, and Todd and Dave have some features under way.

Scott Brown has the unenviable task of putting this all together. It’s the toughest job, since he can’t start until we finish. It will be four in the morning before he’s done. And he has a golf match at nine.

1:00 AM

Tim Brule was accidentally billed for an extra hotel room, and he used the opportunity to keep it anyway as a place for the USCHO crew and other fans to hang out after hours. It’s room 403, which quickly gets dubbed “Club 403.”

“Just don’t call it the Brule Bash,” Tim says. “We’ll keep it small and simple.”

The bathtub is full of beer, and we’re kicking back at last. Most of us, anyway. Lee, Jim and Mike (along with girlfriend Kelly) are keeping Scott company in his room while he cranks out the USCHO front page.

We’re looking for Scott Biggar and Russell Jaslow, D-III staffers who are also in Providence to take in the games. They were apparently at Club 403 around 11:00, when, of course, nobody was here.

Don’t they know it’s an after-hours club?

Paula calls their room.

“Get the hell over here,” she says.

“We’re tired,” they whine.

“Wimps. When a girl calls your room at one in the morning, you better do something about it!”

At 1:00, there are seven people in Club 403.

The bars close at 1:00.

At 1:10 there are 47 people in Club 403. Small and simple. Yeah, right.

I make my way back to Scott’s room, where things are a bit quieter.

Everybody is burned out, but it’s a really good time. Jim, who I haven’t really talked to before, is hysterical, sharing with us his Howard Stern relaxation technique (Howard is on the tube right now with the volume turned off, the only way to watch him). Dave has joined us after finishing his fourteenth feature of the day.

The talk turns to things you can’t write about in a family publication, but I now have plenty of blackmail material. I lose count of the number of times I’m asked, “That’s not going in the travelogue, is it?”

3:30 AM

After taking some notes (since I know I’m fading fast) I’m asleep in five minutes, with visions of Hobeys and Humanitarians in my head.

What a life.