I love UNH hockey with all my heart, mind and soul. For the past three seasons I have attended nearly every home game and I've made trips to Manchester and Boston to watch others. I still remember the first game I attended as a nine-year-old, when Jason Krog netted a few points in a 9-4 win over Providence. I remember the pain of the 1999 loss to Maine in the National Championship and again in 2003 to Minnesota. I remember screaming and running up and down the halls of Williamson when they tied North Dakota with less than a second left. I will always remember those games, just as I will remember the games this past weekend. The win over Miami-Ohio was as exhilarating as they come and the loss to Notre Dame hurt as bad as any other since I first watched the blue and white take the ice in the late 1990s.
Sunday night's performance against Notre Dame is a tough one to swallow. After UNH looked so good against arguably the hottest team in the country in Miami-Ohio, the team just did not seem to have the same fire in the second game. Every year it has been the same story. Early season promise, breakout players, great regular seasons followed by an early playoff exit. I love UNH hockey, but the truth hurts. I know I am not alone.
Following Sunday night's collapse, my Facebook, Twitter and text message inbox was full of similar reactions. Here are just a select few: "I hate reruns;" "Such is the life of a UNH hockey fan;" "UNH loses in disappointing fashion in March? Haven't we watched this episode before?" "They looked unmotivated until it was too late. Where was the team that shut down Miami?" "Can't believe UNH couldn't win a big game ... oh wait, yes I can." "Damn. UNH, can we win an important game for once?" "And the post season Umiliation of UNH hockey continues." "Still the University of No Hardware." "Now can we fire Umile? Please?" "$380,000 for what? Another early exit?"
Just like when every season ends, fans instantly brought up coach Umile's playoff history. I'll be the first to admit it is obviously not pretty. Let's face it, he has done a fantastic job, always fielding a highly competitive team. We rarely hear of UNH players having off-the-ice issues, and players develop extremely well during their UNH career. Recently, Bobby Butler and Paul Thompson are perfect examples of student athletes who have improved on and off the ice under Umile's watchful eye. But the truth hurts. UNH still has yet to win a national championship and like former Jets' coach Herm Edwards famously ranted, "You play to win the game." I mean no disrespect to coach Umile or the players, but facts are facts. For UNH to truly be considered a college hockey powerhouse, we need a national title.
Fans looked for other things to blame following the game. Many pointed out the fact that a lobster was thrown and not a fish. As soon as I saw the lobster I thought it might have been a bad omen. The fish is tradition; you cannot change tradition, especially with a trip to the Frozen Four on the line! At times the team looked flat, unmotivated and deflated up until the late goal. What else is there to say? That was a hell of a season that provided hours of entertainment for UNH fans, and although it ended with a sour taste in our mouths, I cannot help but still feel proud for this team and especially the senior class. Entering the season no one really knew what to expect. We had lost our leading scorer and had a virtually untested goalie. For most of the season, the team came up big and up and down the lineup, with different players of each class stepping up when the team needed them. It didn't end the way we wanted because "most of the time" is not the same as "always."
Looking back on the entire season, I think we can all say it was one of the most entertaining seasons in a long time. Maybe that's why this loss hurt so badly. I cannot end this without thanking our senior class. For the last four years Greg Manz, Mike Beck, Phil DeSimone, Paul Thompson, Matt Campanale, and Mike Sislo represented UNH extremely professionally on and off the ice. Thank you for the memories and best of luck with your future careers. I don't know any of them personally, but I'm proud to call them my fellow students.
Stay classy, not UMassy.