The Gathering, Part III

Friday, April 7th

I have no life during the college hockey season.

My friends and family know that. My fellow U.S. College Hockey Online staffers know it (like they should talk).

I write for USCHO and a couple other publications. But USCHO is my favorite. Really.

I do radio for RIT, about 30 broadcasts a season. I have two kids in hockey; one is on two teams. I coach one of those teams. Between all of that, I probably spend over 300 hours a season in rinks. I feel guilty just writing that.

But I’m such a junkie that there is no doubt I am going to every practice and press conference that I can. Jayson Moy poked fun at me last season by joking about my desire to spend the “off day” at the Pond in Anaheim instead of hitting L.A.

But what can I say? Priorities. Rodeo Drive and Disneyland? Who cares? It was the Frozen Four!

So it was up and at ’em on Friday morning, grab a doughnut with Todd Milewski and then off to the Civic Center for the team practices and press conferences.

Noon

If you ever go to a Frozen Four, go to the practices on Friday. It’s free and fascinating, even if you don’t know much about drills or skills. While the games are obviously the focus for players, they spend much, much more time practicing then they do playing. Practice is a chance to see the teams in their natural element, with the coaches in charge.

I decide to skip the press conferences and attend the practices instead (Todd, doing almost as much writing as Dave, opts for the conferences). North Dakota is first up, and I’m taking mental notes of some of the drills they’re using. A coach can never have enough drills. Things are pretty loose, as you might expect. For the seniors, this will be the last time they practice.

Things conclude with the traditional “showdown,” where the players take turns going one-on-one with the goaltenders. The rules vary from team to team, but it’s basically penalty shot after penalty shot.

At this practice, the coaches get into it as well. And the only player or coach to beat both Karl Goehring and Andy Kollar? Dean Blais. The NoDak fans in the stands cheer as he takes a mock bow. Scott Bigger and Russell Jaslow are speculating on whether either netminder let the coach score — Blais hasn’t officially named the starter for tomorrow’s game. On the other hand, maybe if one of them made a save on Blais, that would have influenced him.

Boston College takes the ice, and it’s more of the same. At that point, the rumors about Mike Mottau winning the Hobey are very strong, and since the team will be heading over to the presentation right after practice, I’m watching things pretty closely for any indication. BC seems loose as well, having fun.

4:00 p.m.

The Humanitarian Award ceremony is about to begin. I’m covering it for USCHO, so I’m settled into press row, tape recorder in hand.

There’s no mystery here — they handed me a press release as I entered naming Maine’s Jim Leger as the winner. The Hobey is going to be televised for the first time, so they’re moving things along pretty quickly. That may be why the Leger ceremony seems rushed and lacks some of the emotional power of Kristine Pierce’s ceremony last season in Anaheim.

Still, it’s a great award, presented to a very deserving candidate. I give the Hobey people credit for sharing the spotlight.

That said, I’m pretty much the only media person covering the Humanitarian, which is a shame. Credit USCHO for giving Leger the attention he deserves, as opposed to the other 30-40 media outlets that were covering just the Hobey, or will mention Leger in passing in their stories.

While waiting for the Hobey presentation, the crowd is treated to videos of past Hobey finalists and winners. Footage from the early 80’s seems ancient in terms of the uniforms, facemasks, and hairstyles. There’s chuckles from the crowd during the Stroh’s beer commercials. I know they were an early sponsor of the award, but I can’t imagine Hobey Baker kicking back with an ice-cold brewski.

Lee Urton is sitting next to me, and he’s doing a slow burn. Lee’s a longtime Minnesota fan, and he’s fuming at the highlights being shown. Since Minnesota is one of the few schools that has had the majority of its games televised over the years, most of the highlights of the Hobey finalists are games in which they played the Gophers. So we see lots of shots of defensemen in maroon and gold getting burned, and lots of Gopher goalies flailing about as the puck sails into the back of the net.

“There’s Minnesota, getting schooled again,” says Lee.

For the forty-seventh time.

Mottau does a nice job with his acceptance speech, and does a television interview with Farkas and Gionta, who seem genuinely happy for Mike. Host Jim Rich calls Mottau “Brian” at one point, but he takes it in stride.

8:00 PM

Every drink Guinness out of a pitcher? Well, not right out of the pitcher, but poured from one into a glass, as opposed to right from the tap?

I have now. Yuck.

Other than that, the impromptu USCHO dinner is a success, for many reasons, not the least of which is that Tim Brule pays the bill.

We get the details of the big golfing showdown between Jim Connelly, Dave Hendrickson, and Scott Brown. Dave, the best golfer of the bunch (allegedly), spotted the other guys nine strokes and proceeded to lose by twice that. He’s still smarting and you better believe he’s getting taunted throughout dinner.

The topic turns to really important things, like what we’d go with the gobs of money we’d make with an USCHO I.P.O. Yeah, right.

We decide the most prudent use of the millions we’d have is to buy the College Hockey America conference.

Now for our plans. We will take decisive action.

Top 10 things to do once USCHO buys the CHA:

  • 10. Change name to U.S. College Hockey America (USCHA)
  • 9. Ban crying in post-game press conferences (includes sportswriters)
  • 8. Refs must also moderate USCHO message boards
  • 7. Any coach who avoids answering questions directly will be fined (inspired by a certain Hockey East coach)
  • 6. Only USCHO-provided “Sieve” logo caps can be thrown following hat tricks
  • 5. Rename mascots/teams after USCHO staffers: Air Force Urtons, Alabama-Huntsville Lerchers, Bemidji State Skating Milewskis, Findlay Flaming Brules (Broo-lays), Niagara Purple Brownies, and Wayne State Westons
  • 4. Zambonis now referred to as “Uschonis”
  • 3. Postseason banquet now an outdoor kegger
  • 2. South Park’s “Blame Canada” instituted as theme song
  • 1. Revised PWR algorithm replaces league points standings

10:00 PM

Then it’s back to Club 403, which, for a change, opened before the bars closed. This means that for the next few hours it will be mostly us staffers here, a great opportunity to get to know each other better.

Mostly this was done through the relating of college hockey tales. Mike Machnik and I commiserate about the things that can go wrong during a live college hockey radio broadcast. Paula Weston relates the time she got drilled in the head with a puck while covering a game at Ohio State. Lee tells a hilarious story about the crowd at Mariucci dropping a crowd-surfing Goldy Gopher when the home team gave up a shorthanded goal.

Probably the best story of the evening, though, has nothing to do with hockey. Jim tells the tale of how he, literally, broke his [email protected]@ by tumbling down a flight of stairs at a “T” stop in Boston. A tragic event, witnessed by hundreds of people. And we can’t stop laughing, especially Kelly, who is laughing so hard she’s crying.

Jim does such an amazing job with this story, he’s forced to tell it again and again as more folks find their way to Club 403. And Kelly gets hysterical each time. It really is still funny, even after multiple renditions.

So if you see Jim Connelly in the off-season, remember to ask him, “How’s your [email protected]@, Jim?” That turned out to be our mantra for the rest of the weekend.

2:00 AM

The phone rings in Club 403. Jayson answers.

It’s Adam Wodon, somewhere between Philly and Providence.

“I’ll be there at 3:30. Will you guys still be awake?”

“Of course,” says Jayson. “We’re just getting warmed up.”

Not some of us. I’m getting ready to turn in. After all, the big event is tomorrow.

The thing we’ve been waiting for all season long.

That’s right.

The first-ever USCHO staff meeting.

Oh, yeah. There’s a hockey game, too.