BOSTON — You train for moments like this.
A trip to the Garden and a shot at the Hockey East championship.
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Because you care. You want to be a champion so bad you can taste it.
So it’s more weights, more sprints, and fewer cheeseburgers, fries, and other enemies of your body.
And that’s only the offseason.
Because you care.
Then the season starts and the training continues on top of the practices, games and academics.
The season stretches out for month after month. Injuries knock you down so you have to get back up. You love what you do, but it pushes your endurance, both physical and mental, to its limits.
For many players, all that work and all that passion still leaves them short of the goal.
But not you.
You make it to the Garden. Now you’re just one win away from the title game.
But you’re playing in the Massachusetts-Lowell vs. Providence semifinal game and it stretches on and on, finally extending into triple overtime.
Almost a second full game.
Near the end, your body and your mind begin to betray you. You make physical mistakes born out of sheer exhaustion. Mental mistakes, too.
All that training and all that passion extends you further than you could have ever hoped to go, but eventually fatigue takes its toll. You can’t stop it.
“At one point, we were down to two centers because we had two other guys cramping up in the locker room,” Providence coach Nate Leaman says. “It was just go on the fly.
“Even the last play was a bad turnover by us. There was a lot of fatigue factor.”
The game won’t be decided until the 12:27 mark of triple overtime. Even then it will take a five-minute video review that overturns the original disallowed goal call.
Lowell beats Providence 2-1.
“It was a good couple games out there,” Lowell coach Norm Bazin quips when it’s over.
“We played mainly three lines for the first game but had to throw in the fourth line quite a bit for the second.”
If you’re a Providence Friar, the end was agony. Your team attempted 126 shots, 59 of which got through to Kevin Boyle. After an early one in the first period snuck through, he stopped all the rest. You pushed and pushed and fought through it all, but your quest for a Hockey East title ended in that third overtime. Adding insult to injury, it was on a video review.
You’ll be playing in the NCAA tournament, but one of the reasons you worked so hard, the dream of holding the Lamoriello Trophy aloft on the Garden ice, is denied to you.
If, however, you’re a Lowell River Hawk, the dream is still alive. You may get that payoff for all that work and all that passion.
But you’ve got your work cut out for you because you played almost two full games. Your opponent did not. Will your legs recover? Will you have your usual jump? Will there be any gas left in your tank?
No one is going to feel sorry for you when you take the ice. No one is going to say, “You’ve got an excuse. It’s OK if you lose.”
Least of all you.
Because you care. And you want this championship so very, very badly. Maybe you’re a senior and this will be your third Hockey East title in four years. Maybe you’re a freshman or sophomore and it will be your first. Either way, the excuses don’t matter.
Excuses are for losers.
“They’re young guys and they recover quickly,” Bazin says. “It’s the championship game. Whether you’re tired or not, you’ve got to play.”
And that’s the way it should be.
A tired smile forms on your face.
You can’t wait.