Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Frozen Four

We’re back from The Frozen Four, and, once again, I wish was as smart every day as I was when I told the Sole Heir to score those tickets. (Especially since I passed on buying them myself a year ago.) Personal observations will follow. Today I need to review the games themselves, as they still haven’t worked their way out of my system.

Thursday’s opening game was worth the trip. How were we to know it would be the least exciting game of the three? Miami of Ohio used its superior size to hammer Bemidji State through an even first period, then wore them down. Miami doubled Bemidji’s shots on goal in the second and third periods and won going away, 4-1, on an empty net goal.

Thursday’s nightcap was widely considered to be the championship. Boston University was the overall Number One seed, and Vermont was solid; Miami and Bemidji were fourth seeds who snuck in with hot weekends in their regional tournaments. BU had lost twice to Vermont during the season, but jumped out to a 2-0 first period lead. Vermont countered with three quick, unanswered second period goals, but BU tied the game late in the period. Vermont took a 4-3 lead midway into the third, but BU scored twice within 1:13 for a 5-4 victory.

Saturday’s game was supposed to be a formality, but, in the only planning mishap of the weekend, no one told Miami. They came out unintimidated by BU’s reputation and didn’t back down after falling behind a goal after one period, tying the game with a second period goal.

Tightly played through the first ten minutes, Miami began to assert itself about midway through the third period, to the extent The Sole Heir and I noted to each other that Boston had “better think of something or they’re in trouble.” Miami scored with about seven minutes to go, then with just over four left to make it 3-1 and Boston really was in trouble.

BU called timeout and pulled the goalie with 3:30 to play, which is a lo-o-o-o-ong time to leave the net open. The way Miami was playing defense, I would have bet on another 4-1 final. This is why I don’t bet. BU scored with 1:00 left, then again with 13 seconds to play to send the game into overtime. The noise after the tying goal was so great the sound backwashed in and out of my ears until it sounded like a siren.

Overtime in a hockey playoff is the most exciting, nerve-wracking thing in sports. First, it’s true sudden death. Each team has equal opportunity at the puck (unlike football), and the goal will likely come out of nowhere to end the game in an instant. Second, teams are always far more interested in scoring the winning goal than they are worried about giving it up.

Miami came out like the last minute of regulation never happened: confident and aggressive. Both sides had good scoring chances as the game went up and down the ice, until A BU player took a shot from near the top of the left face-off circle. A Miami player tried to block it, but his timing was a split second off. The puck deflected off his leg and floated end-over-end over the goalie’s shoulder and into the net. Game over.

A truly great game, regardless of the sport or level of play. The kind of game where, if you weren’t a hockey fan going in, you would be coming out.

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