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From National Qualifiers to Rock Bottom

todayDecember 4, 2022 20

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From National Qualifiers to Rock Bottom

As we stepped off the bus, the ACHA national tournament was everything I imagined it would be. Fans greeted us on our way into the rink, there was branded gear everywhere, there were team pictures and press conferences.We entered the tournament as the 10 seed out of 16. There were four pools, each pool had four teams. Our pool was Dartmouth, Hope and South Carolina. As we entered the arena it all hit me at once. The jumbotron flashed, the ice glimmered, smoother than any surface we had played on this season, local advertisements covering the boards.. The locker rooms were personalized to the last detail, a laser printed Nebraska “N” in the center, carbon-fiber stalls for every player with our names and number above. Time for team skate. Every stride echoed throughout the arena. Between drills, we looked at 5,000 empty seats, which would soon be filled with rowdy fans. 

We were the 3rd seed in our pool, we drew #6 overall Dartmouth in our first game of the round robin. We had no idea what to expect. The locker room had an eerie sense of calmness. “They Point” by E-40 was blaring through our speakers, players were taping sticks and re-lacing their skates. The arena buzzer sounded three times. Only three minutes separated the battle between us and the Dartmouth Indians. As we took the ice, cameras flashed from all angles, the crowd roar was deafening, and our scarlet red jerseys contrasted the white ice perfectly. The puck dropped, opening the first period and the battle began. Through the first period, neither us or Dartmouth could find the back of the net. Thirty seconds into the second Dartmouth went onto the powerplay and scored the first goal of the game soon after. The remainder of the second concluded and we were down 1-0 entering the final period. Before returning to the ice our captain kept the speech short saying “We didn’t drive all the way to the middle of Texas to lose to some rich kids from Dartmouth.” The team answered accordingly, scoring three times in the third period to secure our first win of the tournament. The following two games went nearly the same way, coming from behind wins in the final period, which resulted in a championship appearance. 

Championship day was here and we faced off against #2 overall seed Grand Valley University. Once again, unfamiliar with the team we went in blind. For the first time in the tourney we took the lead before the third period, scoring twice on the powerplay in the first. However, Dartmouth fired back in the second leaving us knotted at two heading to the third. For the first time all year the locker room was silent. We already knew what was expected of us. Fifteen minutes into the third neither team was bending and it looked as if overtime was coming, until freshman forward Cade Hopkins netted his first goal of the season putting us up one with 4:34 to go. Those 4:34 were the most stressful moments of my career, constantly checking the clock as it ticked towards zero. As the buzzer sounded, gloves flew into the air and a dogpile was created before we were presented the trophy.

Unfortunately, none of this is true. The tournament, like most other things was canceled due to COVID-19 and we were prohibited from playing throughout my sophomore season. 

 

Written by: Alex Kopf

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