Playing the waiting game: University of North Dakota hockey players, coaches and fans watched its fate unfold Saturday
MINNEAPOLIS — For journalists, college hockey game days are quite routine.
This was not the case Saturday night as everyone waited for the result in other games around the country to determine whether UND would make the NCAA tournament.
It was a wild night for all involved, myself included. So, I’ll take you through Saturday night’s strange process to filing a game story through the eyes of a writer.
5:57 p.m. — UND’s third-place game ends. Final score: UND 5, Western Michigan 0. I head downstairs for the press conference. Before Western Michigan takes the podium, blogger Eric Burton, aka The Goon, makes the gigantic journalist mistake of saying the ‘O’ word in reference to the night games. I immediately and sarcastically thank him for guaranteeing that Wisconsin and Ohio State would go into overtime (yes, that’s the O-word), and in turn, crush my deadline.
6:20 p.m. — UND takes the podium. It’s Dave Hakstol, Connor Gaarder and Stephane Pattyn. I get a few quotes about the game. But most are along the lines of, “We did our part, now it’s time to sit and wait and see if we get in.”
Obviously, I cannot use that type of a quote in my game story for Sunday morning’s paper, because by then, we’ll all know whether they got in or not. So, I knew I would have to try to track down quotes before the team left for Grand Forks. I knew they were going to stick around downtown for a while and I figured I would seek them out after the results of the Wisconsin and UMass-Lowell games (UND needed both to win to get into the NCAAs).
6:32 p.m. — Pressers are over. I grab dinner at the Target Center and head back upstairs to the press box to start writing my story. I fill in details about the game at the bottom of my story, but leave the top completely blank. The angle of my story is whether the team is getting into the NCAAs or not and I have to wait for the results. By this time, Lowell takes a 2-0 lead on New Hampshire.
7:38 p.m. — By the start of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference championship game at Target Center, I have my quotes transcribed and I start writing what I can. I’m also quite distracted by the game and the free Skittles in the press box. I post something on the web saying that UND beat Western, describe the highlights of the game and say that the team is waiting for Lowell and Wisconsin to determine its fate. By this time, Lowell is up 4-0 and we all know it’s going to come down to the Badgers.
8:51 p.m. — Ohio State leads 3-2. I’ve done all that I can at the Target Center. I decide to leave the NCHC title game late in the second period go to back to my hotel (and the team’s hotel), the Marriott, where I hope to be in position to track down the coaches after the Badger game ends.
9:05 p.m. — I arrive at the Marriott, where the lobby is on the fifth floor. There’s a very large open lounge area there with lots of TVs. I see all of them are on the OSU-UW game and the lounge is filled with over 100 UND fans. I walk over there to watch a little bit of the game.
Within a minute, the Buckeyes score to go up 4-2 with 6:52 left in the third period. I said, “That’s it,” and I turned to head back to my room and start writing the UND-misses-the-NCAA-tournament-for-the-first-time-in-12-years story. A UND fan nearby heard me and said with a disgusted look, “No, it’s not.” I turned and looked at him like he had three heads and said, “Yeah dude, it is.” He angrily interjects again, “No, it’s not!” I think he is delusional and I head to the elevators.
9:06 p.m. — I walk on the elevator. Assistant coach Dane Jackson happens to be on it. I inform him that Ohio State just scored again and it’s 4-2. He looks dejected knowing how close UND came to making the NCAAs.
9:07 p.m. — I get to the room, open up my laptop and prepare to write. But the first Tweet that I see says, “Wisconsin, Ohio State tied up 4-4.” What? Are you kidding? Wisconsin scored not once but twice during my 30-second elevator ride? No chance. I flip on Big Ten Network and sure enough, it’s tied. Crazy.
9:20 p.m. — Overtime. Thanks, Goon.
9:21 p.m. — It’s probably going to be a tight deadline, so I know I better start writing. Since I already looked up some interesting stats about UND missing the tournament — and how the team would have been in the NCAAs had Omaha beat Bentley in the opening game of the year or if Colorado College won just a single nonconference game this season — I decided to start the UND-misses-the-NCAA-tournament-for-the-first-time-in-12-years story first.
9:36 p.m. — Overtime begins. My OSU-wins, UND-is-out story is complete. I just need to insert a couple of quotes from Hakstol about things not working out.
9:50 p.m. — Mark Zengerle scores. Wisconsin wins. Control+A, delete.
9:51 p.m. — I knew the lobby must be going nuts, so I went to check out the scene and try to find players/coaches for quotes, knowing the team is probably leaving pretty quick now. I get in the elevator on the 15th floor. I can hear the fans in the lobby. Yes, from the 15th floor.
A couple of Purdue women’s swimmers were on the elevator with me and looked a bit frightened. One said: “Oh my God, what is going on at this hotel right now?” As writer Chris Dilks tweeted, “The worst night of your life is happening right now, Purdue swimming girl.” They probably didn’t get much sleep.
9:52 p.m. — I reach the lobby. It is, indeed, chaos. The “Let’s Go Sioux” chants are ringing out. Fans are still cheering. A couple players watched the game with them in the lobby and are high-fiving fans. Others starting coming down.
As each group of players reached the lobby, they embraced. Captain Dillon Simpson hugged just about everyone he saw with an excited, relieved look on his face, knowing he hasn’t played his last game yet. Senior Clarke Saunders sat alone in the corner, smiling from ear to ear, taking in the scene around him.
The lobby/lounge area is open there and you can see the elevator bank on the other side. When all the fans saw Hakstol walk out of the elevator, they erupted and cheered again. Hakstol gave them a fist-pump.
Former UND coach Dean Blais happened to be standing nearby and walked up to Hakstol and said: “Cheering for Wisconsin? You’ve got to be (kidding) me!” They had a good laugh. You could tell that Blais was genuinely happy about UND getting in.
Amid their celebrations, I cut in to get some quotes. Simpson said the game took three years off his life. Pattyn held out his hands and said, “I’m still shaking.”
A group of about 20 players walked out of the hotel together. The fans saw them leaving and started chanting again.
I was told about the scene at the Target Center. There wasn’t much happening on the ice, when all of the sudden, fans started cheering all over. They were following the games on their cell phones. A “Let’s Go Sioux” chant also erupted there during the middle of the third period of the Denver-Miami game.
Others Tweeted at me that the same scene repeated at bars in downtown Minneapolis.
10:13 p.m. — I head back to the room to type the new, UND-is-in-the-NCAA-tournament-for-a-12th-straight-year story. I file that as quickly as possible to make deadline.
10:32 p.m. — Story is filed. I double check to make sure I e-mailed the UND-is-in story and not the UND-misses-the-NCAA-tournament-for-the-first-time-in-12-years story. That would have been bad.
11:25 p.m. — Two blog posts are complete. Bracket nerding and predicting is done. I can finally take a break from this chaotic night and relax. That means one thing: pepperoni pizza in the lobby.
Midnight — The UND fan who heard me say, “It’s over,” stops by to remind me that the UW-OSU game was, indeed, not over. I concede.
Schlossman is sports reporter for the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum News Service