Tuesday, March 2, 2010

On Witnessing History

Sunday wasn't my first rodeo with extended playoff hockey. Heck, it wasn't even the first one we'd seen on the weekend.

Three years ago, I had the fortunate duty to cover another first round, game 3 situation. It was a three-overtime slugfest between St. Cloud State and Minnesota-Duluth for the right to move on to the WCHA Final Five. Afterwards, I noted my thoughts for College Hockey News. I won't rehash all of what I wrote there, but I found many of the same feelings returning to the surface as I watched (and called, for WRPI) the longest NCAA-sanctioned game in the history of college hockey, men or women, a game that was just 63 seconds away from being able to drop the "NCAA-sanctioned" qualifier.

We thought after the long overtime-and-a-half show that we'd seen on Friday that we'd seen it all, but perhaps that just made Sunday even more incredible to witness.

One couldn't help but be in awe of the job that the goaltenders did, and as the game wore on, it was blatantly obvious that neither of these teams deserved to lose. I said as much on the air, probably at least three times. Sonja van der Bliek and Victoria Vigilanti were both determined to keep every puck they saw from being the last one of their season.

The dichotomy between victory and defeat was evident. Two separate mobs of red formed on the ice immediately after Laura Gersten finally ended the game, over five hours after the puck dropped, as the Engineers swarmed their two Patty Kazmaier Award nominees, each of which had proven without a doubt that night that they were worthy of their nominations. On the other side, stunned, motionless players. Vigilanti stayed practically frozen in the position that she had been in when Gersten's shot came in, almost as though she couldn't back away from what had happened. I'd seen it before three years prior in St. Cloud.

Quinnipiac fought so long and so hard, and came up with nothing. But that's the way it goes in all of sport. Especially this time of year, there's a winner, and there's a loser. It could just as easily have gone the other way.

It was touching to watch John Burke walk over to Vigilanti, still standing in her crease, and give her a little hug. That underscored the amount of respect that both teams had for each other in that moment. It didn't make things any easier for the Bobcats, but how many other situations do you get to see in which both teams can walk away from the contest just in complete awe of their opponent?

One of the most poignant moments took place after the game was over, with the lights turned out and everyone out of the rink except those of us in the press box who still had work to do wrapping up from the marathon of a game we'd just witnessed. Quinnipiac senior forward Janine Duffy, who'd played a tremendous game and had nearly been the overtime hero herself on more than one occasion, skated out on the ice, still in her full uniform despite the game having ended almost a half an hour earlier. Her tear-stained face was calm, but displayed a clear disappointment as she skated to center ice. She knelt, and kissed the faceoff dot. Duffy had just played in that uniform for the 136th and final time in her college career, and she wasn't ready to take it off for the last time just yet. For three and a half years - TD Bank Sports Center didn't open until halfway through her freshman season - she'd put blood, sweat, and tears into that ice.

She slowly skated back toward the bench. As she was about to open the door and head back into the locker room, she hesitated, and looked back to center ice one more time. Saying goodbye is never easy, especially when it comes after the longest and most draining game you've ever been a part of.

For me, that was the moment where it all hit me. Each of these women will remember that game vividly - even if, in the case of Gersten and Allison Wright, who connected on the scoring play, they don't remember the minute details of how it ended - for the rest of their lives, and those that were in attendance will likely be able to at least, someday, think back to that long, long women's hockey game they went to. I wonder how many will claim to have been there this time next year, or two years from now.

It's a shame it was probably less than 200 who can actually say they were there. I've been watching hockey for over 20 years, and I can fairly say that I've never seen such an incredible mixture of athleticism, dedication, heart, drive, and determination as was seen on the ice in Hamden not just on Saturday, but all weekend long. And that's the stuff that history is made of.

Longest Games in RPI Hockey History (Winning Goal)
144:32, February 28, 2010: RPI 2, Quinnipiac 1; Women's ECAC Quarterfinal Game 3, TD Bank Sports Center, Hamden, CT. (Laura Gersten)

105:40, March 7, 2008: Yale 3, RPI 2; Men's ECAC First Round Game 1, Ingalls Rink, New Haven, CT. (Broc Little)

96:00, February 27, 2009: RPI 2, Princeton 1; Women's ECAC Quarterfinal Game 1, Hobey Baker Memorial Rink, Princeton, NJ. (Allison Wright)

90:50, December 28, 2001: RPI 5, Quinnipiac 4; RPI Holiday Tournament Semifinal, Houston Field House, Troy, NY. (Chris Migliore)

88:46, February 26, 2010: Quinnipiac 2, RPI 1; Women's ECAC Quarterfinal Game 1, TD Bank Sports Center, Hamden, CT. (Chelsea Illchuk)

85:45, March 29, 1985: RPI 6, Minnesota-Duluth 5; Men's NCAA Semifinal, Joe Louis Arena, Detroit, MI. (John Carter)

83:02, November 3, 1990: Providence 6, RPI 5; USAir Tournament Championship, Schneider Arena, Providence, RI. (Lyle Wildgoose)

73:20, March 7, 2009: RPI 2, Harvard 1; Women's ECAC Semifinal, Bright Hockey Center, Boston, MA. (Laura Gersten)

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