Welcome to Hustle Belt's newest series, Painful MAC Memories. Every Wednesday,* our authors will share with you their worst memories of being MAC sports fans -- the kind of painful memories that will stick with you for a lifetime. And we're going to start with a doozy.
*Author's Note: I know it's Thursday. My bad.
In March of 2009, I was living in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The RedHawks hockey team, ranked #8 in the country going into the second round of the CCHA playoffs, lost that second-round series 2-1 to a middling Northern Michigan squad. Miami, which had been all but assured an at-large bid if they failed to win the conference tournament, was suddenly very much on the bubble. But the pairwise ranking gods smiled on the Red and White, and they were in at large as the number four seed...in Minneapolis.
Minneapolis turned out to be an amazingly lucky draw that year. Although the West Regional was hosted by the University of Minnesota in its on-campus Mariucci Arena, the Golden Gophers failed to qualify for the tournament. That meant no one would really have a home-ice advantage, not even the University of Minnesota-Duluth, which was the closest team to the Twin Cities.
Goalie Cody Reichard turned in a fantastic performance in net, leading the RedHawks to a 4-2 win over #1 seed Denver and a 2-1 win over UMD, led by future San Jose Sharks goalie Alex Stalock. Suddenly, Miami was off to the Frozen Four for the first time in school history, where they'd face another underdog, fellow #4 seed Bemidji State, in the national semifinals. Once again, the RedHawks' defense was resolute, with a 4-1 win propelling Miami to the national championship game against Boston University.
The Terriers were a heavy favorite as the #1 overall seed in the tournament, but Miami came out swinging. After one period of play, Boston only led 1-0, and Miami started on the penalty kill in the second. After successfully killing BU's power play, Miami junior Gary Steffes opened the RedHawks' scoring to tie the game. And then, for half an hour of ice time, the teams played evenly.
Tommy Wingels, now of the San Jose Sharks, broke the game open with seven minutes left in the third period. His goal, assisted by Carter Camper and Bill Loupee, put the RedHawks up 2-1. And just three minutes later, Trent Vogelhuber, assisted by Brian Kaufman, scored again to make it 3-1. Miami, it seemed, was on the inside track to its first national title in any sport.
Then the wheels fell off. With 2:40 to go, the Terriers pulled goalie Kieran Millan and went on the attack. At exactly 19:00 of the third, Zach Cohen scored to bring BU within one. But the soul-crushing blow came with seventeen seconds left, when Nick Bonino netted the tying score.
In 239 minutes of NCAA tournament ice time, Cody Reichard had given up five goals. In forty-three seconds, he gave up two.
I was planted on the couch in my Minneapolis living room with a broken ankle, which prevented me from traveling to the game. But I'm sure the sense of dread I felt was shared by everyone at the Verizon Center. I saw no way we could win the game in overtime. The roller-coaster of emotions -- we were SEVENTEEN SECONDS away from a national title! --was too much.
And make no mistake: that overtime was not fun to watch. At no point in time did I have the "good" kind of nervous jitters, a feeling of hope that Miami would get a lucky bounce and hoist a trophy. The only sense of anticipation I had was the horror of awaiting a loss.
Of course, that loss eventually came, a little over seven minutes into overtime. BU's Colby Cohen took a shot from the left side, and Kevin Roeder went down to block it. Instead of the puck bouncing back, though, it deflected off of Roeder straight into the net. Cody Reichard never even saw it.
And then the Terriers were celebrating, raising a trophy that was supposed to go to Miami, completing arguably the greatest comeback in NCAA hockey history. We RedHawks fans tried to talk ourselves happy in the days afterwards --This was supposed to be our rebuilding year, after all, wasn't it just fantastic to have made it this far? Next year we're going to destroy the field! -- but it was a futile effort.
The RedHawks snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Miami could win the next ten national titles starting next year, but nothing will wipe that collapse from my mind.