I enjoyed reminiscing as this year's Frozen Four was being played in Minneapolis/St. Paul. It instantly brought me back to the 2002 Frozen Four, which was also played in Minneapolis. I remember it vividly. The memories still hurt. There are still moments that I see the number 52 and it instantly takes me back to the time that Minnesota scored the game- tying goal in the national championship game.
It was my first year as media relations contact for the men’s ice hockey team, and legendary head coach Shawn Walsh had passed away in September, just prior to the start of the season. Tim Whitehead, whom I had worked with while I was doing my internship at UMass Lowell, took over as interim head coach. The season was filled with so many emotions.
Maine advanced to the Frozen Four after defeating Boston University in the East Regional. Colin Shields netted the game-winner as Maine advanced and drew arch-rival New Hampshire in the Frozen Four. The Wildcats led 2-1 after one period of play, but Maine responded and scored six straight goals to earn the 7-2 win. It was almost surreal.
The win set up a game against Minnesota, who was playing at home. Years later, I can still hear that stupid Minnesota chant in my head. It was awful. There were 17,000 people chanting MINNESOTA in unison.
There were loyal Maine fans there, but I’ve never felt so outnumbered. The game was close. Minnesota scored first, and we tied it early in the second period. Michael Schutte tied the game again early in the third period with his second goal of the game. Robert Liscak gave us our first lead with 4:33 remaining. I remember thinking to myself could this actually happen? After everything that this team had been through, could we really win the national championship?
I made my way down to the bench. If we won, ESPN would want to interview one of our top players. I was standing behind the bench and volunteers working for the NCAA began to bring the national championship shirts and hat out. Someone on our staff asked them to please take them away from the bench as there was still over a minute to play.
Each second went painfully slow, an eternity as each one ticked off. The clock then hit the one minute mark. Could this really happen?? With just over 52 second remaining Minnesota tied the game. My heart sank along with the entire Maine bench as the rink went crazy. Remember, we were playing Minnesota in Minnesota for the national championship. The national championship, which was less than a minute away from being ours, had been ripped away. Regrouping was a must for overtime.
Both teams fought so hard in overtime. Around the 15-minute mark Maine was called for a penalty. Considering the game was overtime, it was questionable call. Shortly after Grant Potulny scored to give Minnesota the national title. It was heart-wrenching.
How do you console a team that has been through so much? I wanted to cry, but I’m not supposed to show emotion. I just wanted to make the pain go away for the guys who had given everything they all year long.
In retrospect, maybe that was how it was supposed to end. The season began with the ultimate heartbreak of losing our coach. There were highs in the middle, but the season ended in heartbreak as well. We’d truly come full circle.
It was 16 years ago tonight as a write this on the evening of April 6. Since that day I have been able to remember the highs as well as the lows. It’s weird as even today, I will see a clock that says 52 second and it immediately triggers that night in my mind. Seeing the Frozen Four in Minnesota brought back a myriad of emotion. It still hurts to this day as we were oh so close.