Minnesota-Duluth 3 Michigan 2-- Minnesota-Duluth wins the national championship
I've told some form of this story a couple times before. It was March of 2007 and Hermantown High School had just defeated Duluth Marshall to win the Class A state title at the XCel Energy Center. While Hermantown celebrated in their locker room, the gaggle of media on hand grabbed a few quick quotes from losing coach Brendan Flaherty, before immediately jetting over to the victorious side as soon as some of Hermantown's players became available. The only two people to stick around on the Marshall side of the hallway was a local TV cameraman and myself. The cameraman asked coach Flaherty if any of his players, specifically Jack Connolly, could come out and say a few words on camera, before quickly adding that he understood it was an emotional time and would completely understand if he didn't want to. I decided to stick around too, partially because I was intrigued by Connolly's lightning fast hands and knack for always being in the right position to make a play over the course of the tournament, and partially because I wanted to see if he had the moxie to actually come out, something you understandably rarely see from players after such crushing losses. He had just played his final high school game, and had just lost a state title game for the second straight year. About a minute later, he emerged from the locker room, and after saying a few words on camera, talked with me for a couple of minutes. It's takes a lot of guts to do that, and isn't something most people can do.
It's hard to believe that was the same kid I saw on Saturday night. And not just because the shoulder-length black hair and pencil-thin beard had been replaced by a bleached-blond atrocity and a beard any Iron Ranger would be proud of. It was the same person, on the same sheet of ice, but two completely different worlds. We talked a little bit about his future and how he hoped to play in the USHL, but had a team lined up in the NAHL to fall back on. Hometown Minnesota-Duluth had talked to him a little bit, but no other school had talked to him. Neither of us knew what the future really held for him, and that he would be standing in the same spot in a little over four years, only this time he would be on the other end of the championship game and would be standing on top of the college hockey world. It just took him a little longer to bring a title home to Duluth.
-I think the coolest part of UMD's first national championship is the local flavor the final game had. Hermantown's Kyle Schmidt had the game winner, Duluth East's Max Tardy, and had the second goal, and I'll even throw Travis Oleksuk in since Duluth is more local to Thunder Bay than anywhere else, and he's a legacy player, since his dad played at Duluth in the early 80's.
-Mike Connolly and JT Brown were dominant in this game. I think the only thing that kept them off from potting a goal was some kind of cosmic justice for the absolutely pathetic and embarrassing display of diving throughout the game. I've often marveled at Duluth's training staff whosomehow always seem to find a way to get seriously injured players back out onto the ice for the ensuing power play. A whistle-happy Hockey East crew maybe wasn't the best choice for this game.
-I've never understood the hate for the "intent to blow the whistle" rule, and thought the disallowed goal in the first period was the textbook example of why it is a great rule. Referees can let goalmouth scrambles continue on a little longer, limiting the amount of premature whistles on pucks that are actually loose, while not allowing teams to score by whacking at a puck that has been frozen, which was pretty clearly what Michigan did. About the only argument I could see being made is if you went to the angle from the far end of the ice, and it showed that the puck came uncovered as Reiter fell backwards, but I don't think that was the case.
-This game was maybe the premier showcase for the NAHL. Both starting goalies, and a top player from each team--UMD's Mike Montgomery, and Michigan's Scooter Vaughan--came to college straight from the NAHL and were key pieces for very good teams. That league doesn't often get the credit it deserves, but it does produce some nice players.
-Three paragraphs in, I decided my rant about ESPN's coverage of the game is better served in its own full post.
-Saying Minnesota-Duluth won the national title in football this year is like saying Texas A&M won the national championship in basketball this year.
-On a personal note, my son came home from the hospital for the first time on Sunday. Those of you that care to look back to when I mentioned him being born and do the math, can probably understand what a big deal that is. The upshot for the blog is that I'm no longer bound by the limitations of my wife's laptop and the hospital's Internet Explorer-only computers, so hopefully posting becomes more frequent, or at least as frequent as it can be considering we're like two days into the offseason.