By Peter Langella
If the college hockey season were a map of the United States, you'd want your team to be on the high plains come mid-February, moving east to west toward the tallest peaks of the Rockies. Teams with too many recent setbacks are too far behind for the grueling climb that is the playoffs, while teams that are already at the top of the mountains will find themselves down on the other side fighting to regain their form when it matters most.
|The 2007 Oswego State team
was the only in the last decade to claim a national championship
without winning its league title.
Photo: Scott Bridges
Here’s a question: How many teams have won the men’s national championship in the last ten years without winning their league championship?
One. Oswego in 2007.
Every other has been a league champion that has gone on a run and plowed through to the finish.
I hear a lot of people around the rinks talking about how it’s better for their team to lose a game now – to get it out of their system before the postseason – but the time for that has come and gone. Once the calendar hits February, it’s time to race for the finish line. Lose again and that might be it.
In 2005 I played on a tremendously talented Norwich team. We had the national player of the year in Kurtis Mclean, we had a goalie who had already won a national championship in Mike Boudreau, and we entered the last weekend of the regular season with only two losses. We’d won at least ten in a row, and we thought we had what it took to win it all.
Then Williams and Middlebury came to town. We lost both games. Middlebury embarrassed us 7-3 in a penalty-filled affair. It has to be one of the only times Norwich has ever lost two games in a row at home. I certainly can’t remember any other weekends like that. Not since Kreitzberg Arena and Coach McShane have been around, at least.
Everyone was left to wonder what happened. Everyone. Us players. The coaches. Our fans. Faculty members were asking questions after class. Even a cashier at a grocery store two towns away started chiming in when he saw my team jacket. It was a horrible, nauseous feeling - like showing up at the rink without your skates. We didn’t have any answers.
We limped into the league quarterfinals after a rough week of practice, and we ended up beating an expansion Castleton team 16-0. It was a ridiculous game, and the karma for running up the score came back at us when NEC beat us 6-5 in overtime in the semis.
The next night, we gathered around our computers hitting the refresh button over and over and over, waiting for the NCAA to announce the bids for the tournament. We weren’t invited. We went from very legitimate contenders to spectators in just three weeks and four games. We got stuck on the other side of those mountain peaks, and we couldn’t make the return climb.
It’s as simple as that. Never think it’s a good idea for your team to lose to get it out of its system before it counts. It counts now! We’re past the point of no return.
Peter Langella played at Trinity College and Norwich University and has also coached at Williams. He is now a writer and librarian in central Vermont.