Friday The 13th… In Everything But Number
Friday. October 12, 2007
It’s opening night for Hockey East, a show that’s about to begin its 24th season. Phantom of the Opera, Broadway’s longevity king, is a baby by comparison. Chris Terreri, Tim Army and Peter Taglianetti were leading Providence to the inaugural league title before Phantom was even a glimmer in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s eyes.
There have been a few exhibition games already, but tonight the real ones begin.
You settle in. It’s been a long offseason. You’re ready for action. Unless you’re a Merrimack fan, your team is opening on the road and tonight there’s no TV coverage.
But that doesn’t stop you. You hop on the Internet and you’re in business.
You’ve already donned your team’s jersey. You’ve been watching tapes of past championships for the past few hours. You’re wearing your Hockey East hat with “Old Time Hockey” printed on its bill. You might even have caused an aluminum foil shortage at the supermarket just so you could “put on the foil.”
You are so in the mood. Let’s get the show on the road! Drop the puck!
Last year was a pretty good one for the league. Five teams in the NCAA tournament; two got to the Frozen Four. Bridesmaids, yeah. But a bounce of the puck here, a different penalty call there. Woulda, coulda, shoulda.
This year will be different. This time, college hockey’s Holy Grail. You can feel it in your blood. Your fingers tingle.
You pour yourself a beverage. Perhaps it fizzes… Or foams… Maybe ice cubes clink within the glass. You take a sip. Or guzzle down gulp after gulp.
Impatient, you juggle three pucks you’ve collected at games when they’ve flown into the stands. You had to shoulder aside little kids in the process, but you never felt guilty. You knew you’d appreciate them more than the kids.
You add a fourth puck to the juggling act, but there goes the beverage, splattering onto the floor. Oh, well. There’s more where that baby came from.
Finally, a score comes in.
Only it’s not a final. They’re going into overtime. Boston College is playing Michigan in the Ice Breaker tournament. This evokes two memories, neither of them good ones. In the first, it’s overtime of the 1998 national championship game and these two teams have been going at it hard.
There’s a sour taste in your mouth and it has nothing to do with your beverage. It’s the memory of Josh Bleeping Langfeld beating Scott Clemmensen in overtime. Hail to the phfttttt!
The other memory is every bit as foul. With the Ice Breaker being held in St. Paul, Minnesota, you’re mind is inexorably taken to the 2002 title game. The Maine Black Bears, riding a great coaching performance by Tim Whitehead and the spirit of Shawn Walsh, come within 53 seconds of a national championship. But an extra-skater goal sends the game into overtime and a Gopher power-play goal wins it for the home team.
You look down at the floor. If it were ice, you’d spit on it.
You live and die with Hockey East. You don’t wear Joe Bertagna underoos, as someone once joked — a quip you found as funny as BU’s triple-overtime loss in 1991 — but you’re loyal to a fault and proud of it. Especially loyal to your own team, but if not them then one of their fellow members of the best college hockey league on the planet.
Teetering on the precipice of a very foul mood, you pull yourself back. It’ll be different this year. Like 1993, 1995, 1999 or 2001. Especially 1999. Three of the four teams in the Frozen Four. Hockey East vs. Hockey East in the finals.
Yeah, baby. This is our year. And what better team to get off on the right foot with than BC. Scoring, veteran defense–
Michigan 4 Boston College 3 (OT)
Well, it’s just one game. That whole “getting off on the right foot” thing has always been highly overrated. Almost as overrated as all the other leagues.
You call for a pizza. Extra everything including anchovies. Especially anchovies. They’ll supply the mojo for the rest of the night.
Massachusetts and Clarkson going into overtime. Not bad, 1-1. Clarkson was picked to win the ECACHL and UMass is playing a ton of kids, including a freshman goalie. Given up only one goal? Yeah.
Clarkson 2 Massachusetts 1 (OT)
Oh, well. A couple of overtime losses to good teams. Nothing to jump off the Tobin over.
St. Lawrence 4 Providence 1
Oh-for-three. Geez. You spot anchovy stains on your jersey.
Well, you figure, at least the New Hampshire exhibition score should be coming in. That’ll stem the tide.
Will that be Umile’s 400th win? You can’t remember if exhibitions count for that sort of thing but doubt it.
You take a wild guess on the eventual score. Probably 6-1. Something like that. All that UNH scoring power against a Canadian team.
Fuggetaboutit. Maybe 7-1.
New Brunswick 4 New Hampshire 3
You stare at the screen. Slap it on the side.
It can’t be. Someone is playing tricks on you. Is there a practical joker out there who thinks this is April 1st?
You look again. It’s true. The Wildcats lost.
A belch erupts from deep in your stomach. All you smell is partially digested anchovies.
Or maybe you didn’t even belch. Maybe that’s just your brain throwing together some sloppy metaphor for a team like UNH losing to New Brunswick.
Either way, dazed, you suspect you’ve ordered anchovies for the last time.
Merrimack 4 Niagara 2
Stop the presses! Hockey East won a game!
You feel like you’ve fallen down a rabbit hole. Merrimack, the one team that is winning? The Warriors were supposed to finish last. Suddenly they’re the league’s mainstays, meeting the barbarian hordes at the gates of the city, the last line of defense while a powerhouse like UNH loses to New Brunswick?
A cold chill creeps over you. Has Stephen King staged a coup d’état and overthrown the league office? Is he sitting there, cackling and rubbing his hands, while feeding disinformation so that people like you can go quietly, or perhaps not so quietly, insane?
That beats any other explanation.
Miami 2 Vermont 1
You’ve taken off your Hockey East cap and jersey.
You’re biting into the last slice of pizza, though it’s as cold, hard and tasteless as the cardboard container it came in. Solemnly, you sip your drink.
You think, well, at least there’s BU and Maine. Both are playing out West, BU in Alaska and Maine at Denver. The Black Bears might have a tough time, but the Terriers are a slam dunk against Robert Morris.
But those scores won’t be in for another hour and a half. Drained of enthusiasm, you drift off to sleep thinking, “At least BU’s an automatic.”
Robert Morris 3 Boston University 2
You rub your eyes. You blink. You blink some more.
You look about. Your heart pounds.
Your hands shake. Stunned, you can’t move.
DEFCON ONE! DEFCON ONE!
Then it hits you.
You begin to laugh, first with a nervous titter but it builds and builds until you are roaring with laughter. Laughing so hard tears stream down your face.
You really fell for it, didn’t you? Swallowed it hook, line and sinker.
It’s all been a nightmare! Of course! One that seemed startlingly vivid, that much was true, except for one thing: its outrageous absurdity.
New Brunswick beating UNH? Everyone losing but Merrimack? And especially Robert Morris beating BU.
Robert Morris? No offense to them, but Robert Morris?
You’re actually a little disappointed that your subconscious couldn’t conjure a more realistic nightmare. Hadn’t it ever heard of a thing called verisimilitude?
New Brunswick? Robert Morris?
So much for verisimilitude.
Still, it had been quite the leg-puller.
You keep laughing your butt off even while knowing you’re still dreaming. You don’t have to pinch yourself to find that out. A room full of monkeys could type Shakespeare before tonight’s nightmare results could come true.
Giggling uncontrollably at the outlandish extremes of your subconscious, you let it play out a little longer. You don’t pinch yourself. You let the nightmare run its course and end with the predictable finale.
Denver 2 Maine 0
Of course. It couldn’t end any other way.
Not only with a loss, but a goose egg.
Enough is enough, you figure.
Time to wake up.
So you pinch yourself.
You pinch yourself again.
How very bizarre.
Shrugging, you stand up and let yourself fall face-first into the floor, hands at your side.
You slam into the surface and seem to bounce, like a pro wrestler having taken a spectacular fall.
Blood gushes from your nose. Needles of pain shoot through your brain. You put your hand to your face and it is instantly covered,red and sticky.
You realize you overdid it, this making sure to wake up from the nightmare. You didn’t have to rearrange your face in the process. You wipe more blood away.
But at least it worked.
At least that’s what you think… until your eyes lock in on the screen and… after blinking several times, you stare again at the scores.