Time finally caught up with the Cardiac Kids.
They’d been coming from behind game after game. It started on Jan. 16 against Boston College with Massachusetts-Lowell scoring an extra-attacker goal to force overtime followed by the game-winner in OT.
That modus operandi continued in the playoffs. The River Hawks, a.k.a. the Cardiac Kids, trailed Vermont in the opener, 3-1, with seven minutes left.
After a power-play goal to get to within one, they scored with an extra-attacker to — have you heard this tune before? — set the stage for an overtime game-winner.
In the Hockey East semifinals, they once again trailed in the late stages, this time to Northeastern, the number five team in the country.
Not to worry.
Taking advantage of a Huskies penalty in the final two minutes, they scored to force another overtime and you know how that tune ends, don’t you? Another overtime game-winner to put the River Hawks into the championship game.
With a win they’d have their first ever Hockey East title and a berth in the NCAA tournament. With a loss, the magical journey to the Garden that included an 11-3-2 record down the stretch would be over.
All they had to do was defeat the number one team in the country, Boston University, a squad so talented another coach referred to it as the only professional team playing college hockey.
For a while the River Hawks didn’t just hang in there against those Terriers with lofty pedigrees, they outplayed them. Though BU scored late in the first period, most of the quality chances were coming off Lowell sticks. The only problem was BU goaltender Kieran Millan.
A one-goal deficit? Why start sweating the small stuff now?
Midway through the second period, an apparent Lowell goal appeared to render the need for more extra-attacker heroics moot. Though a whistle blew, it seemed to come after the puck went into the net.
“We heard a whistle,” UML coach Blaise MacDonald said, carefully choosing his words, “but not, in our opinion, before the goal went in.”
The instant replay officials, however, came to the opposite conclusion and once again the Cardiac Kids needed a miracle.
They got their chances. Just as they’d done the night before, they went on the power play with less than two minutes remaining. They dodged a bullet when a BU icing attempt hit the post of the empty Lowell goal.
Even as the seconds counted down and the puck left the BU zone for what seemed to be the final required time, the River Hawks again made their bid. What seemed amazing was that this time Maury Edwards’s setup of Scott Campbell didn’t end up in the back of the net. And neither did the shot off the resulting faceoff with 1.5 seconds remaining.
The 2008-2009 Lowell River Hawks’ season had ended. They had fashioned one upset after another to face the number one team in the country and then had dished out everything BU could handle. But it hadn’t quite been enough.
“I’m obviously very, very proud of our team going toe-to-toe with such an outstanding team as BU,” MacDonald said. “It could have gone either way. I can’t help but think we deserved a better fate.”
So close but yet so far.
“We worked really hard to get here,” senior captain Mark Roebothan said, his voice filled with emotion. “We got so close.
“Sometimes the bounces are for you, sometimes they’re against you. A number of them could have gone either way. Unfortunately, they didn’t go our way tonight.
“We worked as hard as we could. We gave it our all.”
And so the magical ride ends.
“This has been a pretty good journey for us to get here,” MacDonald said. “Two years ago our program was almost extinguished. These juniors were part of those trials and tribulations. To respond and finish like we did was a terrific experience.”
In the locker room after the game, MacDonald gave his Cardiac Kids some perspective.
“We lost tonight but we’re winners,” he told them. “We’re absolutely winners. I don’t think a lot of people, myself included, pictured us playing in the Hockey East championship game against a team like BU and competing as well as we did.”
Yea and amen to that.