The Gathering, Part IV

When handing out the assignments for championship weekend, U.S. College Hockey Online general manager Jayson Moy also said, “Mandatory staff meeting on Saturday morning at 10 a.m. sharp. Everyone must be there. Hangovers optional.”

Wow. I guess we’re really a business now. Staff meetings and everything.

But Jayson and Tim were smart. They knew that to ensure 100% attendance, they had to do one thing.

Buy breakfast.

Saturday, April 8th, 10:30 a.m.

So here we are. Stuffed to the gills and seated around a huge table in one of the Westin Hotel’s conference rooms, the brain trust of U.S. College Hockey Online.

God help us all.

At one end of the table sits Jayson Moy, our general manager and co-ECAC correspondent; at the other, Tim Brule, founder and owner. In between are Dave Hendrickson, Hockey East; Becky Blaeser, ECAC; Scott Biggar, ECAC West; Russell Jaslow, SUNYAC; Paula Weston, CCHA; Todd Milewski, WCHA; Adam Wodon, special correspondent and resident gadfly; Lee Urton, media director and jack of all trades; Mike Machnik, site architect; Mike’s friend Kelly McGinnis, who graciously offered to take notes; Scott Brown, chief editor; and yours truly.

Missing are Zevi Gutfreund, women’s correspondent, and Ed Trefzger, who does a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff in our D-III section. They apparently decided to have lives this week.

Jayson calls the meeting to order (Hendrickson will have to stop eating now), and gives us a kind of “State of USCHO” talk. News is good. Web hits are way up, sponsors continue to be signed, etc.

I’m not sucking up here (really!), but I think that Jayson’s doing a great job. He’s been able to run this business on top of his other obligations, and usually keeps the troops happy. He’s a “hands off” kind of boss, but can be tough when needed.

Consider his favorite response to what he considers whining on somebody’s part.

“We have a saying for this in my country,” he’ll intone.

“Tough s#@t.”

After Jayson delivers his remarks, Tim talks for a bit on his plans for USCHO. In a nutshell: bigger and better.

Then it’s the staff’s turn. Based on the size of the group and our plans to try to keep the meeting to two hours or less (I think naps are in order for most of us this afternoon), each person gets five minutes to share what they think went right and what went wrong this year.

This will be hardest on Adam, who has brought several pages of notes. Actually, as soon as Jayson says, “five-minute time limit”, we all look at Adam for his reaction. He appears to take it in stride, or maybe it’s just that he’s working on about 45 minutes of sleep. I make a mental note to ask him how he managed to take a shower with his bathtub full of ice and 12-packs.

The rest of the meeting, is, as they say, a “love-in”. We all know there are issues and challenges to be dealt with, but most of us use our five minutes to talk about the good things. There will be time after the meeting to break into caucuses to start working on problem areas.

Saturday, 2:00 p.m.

I’m drifting in and out of sleep. Not that the topic of discussion in my room at the moment is less than compelling (Scott, Lee, Adam and Todd discussing page layout and other architecture issues), but I need to rest up for the big game and its aftermath. Tradition holds that post-championship revelry will go on all night.

Saturday, 6:00 p.m.

I’m outside the Civic Center, trying to get ticket scalpers to talk to me for a feature I’m doing.

Fat chance. The undercover cops were out in force for Thursday’s semifinals, so people are being extra careful.

“Get the [email protected]#$ away from me,” is the standard reply I’m getting.

“I’m a reporter, not a cop,” I tell one guy.

“Even worse,” he says.

Still, I need to find out what’s really going on, so I decide to use an age-old journalistic device.

I lie.

I start telling people that I have tickets to sell, in order to see what they’re willing to pay, or that I want to buy some, to see what they’re going for.

I manage to get enough for a story, and make it back inside the arena with about a minute to go until the opening faceoff.

Unfortunately, even the overflow section is full by then, so I head down to the press room and watch the first period on the monitors while I work on my story about ticket scalping. It’s kind of surreal, watching something on national television that’s happening about 50 feet away from you, on the other side of the wall.

I manage to snag a seat for the last two periods, and it’s a great game, as usual. I’m pulling for BC, because they’ve been so close so many times recently, and have players from or near where I live (Brian Gionta is from Rochester; Jeff Farkas from nearby Williamsville).

But North Dakota plays a great game and earns the win with a third-period comeback. Having only seen the Sioux three times this season, I’m wondering how this team ever lost a game. They have it all: size, speed, goaltending, and natural scorers. A worthy group of champions.

Saturday, 10:00 p.m.

The order of press conferences is different for the finals. Here the losing team goes first. BC’s is about the same as the one in Boston: shock and disappointment, but also reflective of a very good season.

The North Dakota group looks like they just climbed a mountain and realized that they were finally at the top, with no more work to do — just enjoying the view.

After the conference ends, I thank Michigan Tech SID Dave Fischer, the emcee, for his usual fine job. If you think running these press conferences is easy, just ask the guy who had to put up with Bobby Knight a few years back. But then again, this is a real sport, played by real sportsmen.

Dave is never without a factoid of some kind. I’m reminded of a break in the press conferences on Friday, when he tried to keep our attention as we milled about waiting for the next group of coaches and players.

“Recent history has been kind to teams that start with letters in the middle of the alphabet,” he said.

“Schools starting with the letters L, M, or N have won eight of the previous nine championships.”

This stopped everybody in their tracks. A hand went up.

“How many beers did it take before you came up with that one?”

Without missing a beat, Fischer leaned over the microphone.

“Four.”

It’s getting kind of crazy in the basement of the Civic Center. NoDak’s plane has been delayed, and the team and fans have been given permission to hold an impromptu reception in the media dining area. Lots of green-clad folks hugging and hollering.

I finish my work, take one final look around, and head back to the hotel.

Sunday, 1:00 a.m.

Party time. All the stories have been filed, and it’s time for one last Brule Bash.

Things start quietly, as again it’s mostly USCHO staffers until the bars close.

There’s a “Jen” or two here as well, I think. They all look alike to me.

Everybody’s tired, waiting for a second wind to come along. Our fearless leader Tim is showing signs of wear. While discussing tonight’s game, he says, “In the second half, I thought BC…”

“Second period,” someone says.

“Yeah, sorry,” Tim says. “I guess it’s almost spring and my thoughts are turning to…”

“Baseball,” says Scott Brown.

Sunday, 3:00 a.m.

We do get a second wind, especially when friends show up with a huge “Welcome to Providence — 2000 NCAA Hockey Championships” banner. Boy, that would look nice in the front yard of my house.

Things get a little crazy, and, well, if I want to keep working here, I guess I’ll just say that a good time was had by all.

So to answer your questions, USCHO staffers — no, that’s not going in the travelogue.

Sunday, 11:00 am — near the Massachusetts/New York border

Hockey season might be over, but don’t tell Mother Nature, who’s dumping over a foot of snow on the Albany area.

I arrive just in time to get stuck in this mess, so as I’m waiting for the tow trucks to attend to the 18-wheeler currently spun out and blocking the road ahead of me, I have time to reflect on the 1999-2000 season.

I consider how fortunate I am to be able to follow a sport I love, and then write about it. How lucky I am to be wearing a media badge while interviewing people willing to pay hundreds of dollars to see what I’m going to see.

I know that’s the way everybody here feels. The folks at USCHO work insane hours to bring you what we think is the best college hockey coverage there is. And we love every minute of it.

In my opinion, hockey is the greatest game on the planet, and the best variety is that played at the college level. It’s a game that can make your heart pound one minute, and ache the next.

As I write this on May 23, 2000 (yes, I know this last installment is late, but I wanted to keep to the time-honored tradition at USCHO of late final travelogue pieces), I’m looking at the clock on my desk.

It’s one of those “Year 2000 Countdown” clocks that can be reset to count down to other dates once the big one has come and gone.

I have it set to October 20, 2000. That’s my first RIT hockey broadcast of the 2000-2001 season.

150 days away.

Can’t hardly wait.