Why is this night different from all other nights?
As I watched Vermont’s Justin Milo knock a power-play rebound past Kieran Millan to tie the UVM-Boston University game, I couldn’t help but think of those words.
After all, I’d heard Milo ask that exact question just a few hours earlier.
This year’s Frozen Four coincides with the Jewish festival of Passover, which commemorates the exodus from Egypt and begins with a seder (festive meal) on each of the first two nights.
With the second seder set for Thursday night, those of us in the college hockey community who celebrate the holiday had a bit of a predicament on our hands.
Thankfully, we had an example to follow. Two years ago, the night of the NCAA men’s basketball championship fell on the night of a Passover seder, and the CSTV contingent in Atlanta included several Jews, including Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg.
Their solution was an afternoon seder, before the game, which seemed like the best option in this case as well.
Phone calls were made, a plan was formed, food was ordered and a room reserved. And so, on Thursday afternoon, on the second floor, with the help of the NCAA, the tournament host committee and a couple of folks at the Sixth and I Synagogue, we gathered around a conference table on the second floor of the Mayflower Hotel.
It was quite an eclectic mix: players, writers, athletic department officials, family members and friends. And, when the time came to ask the Four Questions (explaining what separates Passover from the other nights of the year), the youngest person at the table — traditionally responsible for asking the questions — was Justin Milo.
Under normal circumstances, the age of the youngest person at the table is in the single digits, so it would be reasonable to expect Milo to be out of practice, but he came through like a champ, chanting in Hebrew almost as adeptly as he would later put the puck in the net for the Catamounts.
In terms of great athletes honoring their religion while still finding a way to play, it probably won’t get as much attention as Hank Greenberg playing for the Detroit Tigers after attending Rosh Hashanah services in 1934, but it’s one of the things I’ll remember most about this year’s Frozen Four, along with what I saw immediately after our meal ended.
As I began to clean up after the meal, I saw Justin talking with BU forward Zach Cohen, who had joined us after getting back from BU’s pregame skate. They chatted pretty amiably for two guys who were about to battle tooth and nail for a shot at the national championship, discussing this summer’s world Jewish Hockey Championship in Metulla, Israel.
Watching the two players converse reminded me of the lesson Herb Brooks impressed on his players on the 1980 U.S. Olympic team (a lesson that, as Dov Moshe Lipman points out on aish.com, the world’s largest Jewish website, has meaning for the Jewish people as well).
Though we come from different backgrounds and came to Washington looking for different results, we all share an important bond, or, as Eric Peter-Kaiser said while playing Mark Johnson in Miracle, “We’re a family.”
I may not have been with my parents and aunt in New York on Thursday night, but it was certainly wonderful to spend this joyous occasion with family.