MANCHESTER, N.H. — Following
yesterday’s NCAA Northeast Regional final loss, I felt weird.
Michigan had just dropped a 3-2 overtime heartbreaker that would
bring even Darth Vader to tears (especially since the voice of the
Dark One is that of James Earl Jones, a Michigan alum), and I felt
like I was missing something. It wasn’t any of my valued
possessions. After tapping both of my front pants pockets, I was
assured that my keys, voice recorder and phone were present. And my
keeled-over walk indicated that my overly-stuffed,
“Costanza” wallet wasn’t left behind. After I
performed a head count that would make any first grade teacher
proud, I knew that the absence couldn’t be credited to a
stray Michigan Daily employee.
No, it wasn’t anything of this sort. I was missing a
feeling, something that had overwhelmed me after every other loss
this season: cynicism.
Covering a team as talented as Michigan, it is difficult to just
accept a loss. And after each of the Wolverines’ 13 prior
defeats, my postgame thoughts were extremely negative.
Man, we got outhustled … This team’s consistency is
laughable … Coming out that flat, do the players even care?
… Is Montoya really worth all the hype? …
These viewpoints and contemplations owned me every time Michigan
came up on the short end of the stick. I guess I just believed that
Michigan had never faced a team that was truly superior —
thus, it shouldn’t have lost.
But that all changed yesterday.
Boston College was the better team.
Following Michigan’s semifinal win over New Hampshire on
Saturday, Red Berenson commented on the daunting task the
Wolverines had ahead of them.
“We know Boston College is a great team,” Berenson
said. “They’re a deeper team than we are. They’re
quicker, and they probably have more skill.”
I thought that Berenson was just pulling a Lou Holtz — you
know, over-hyping an upcoming opponent for motivational purposes.
But Red wasn’t kidding. And yesterday, the Eagles lived up to
They were dominant. They outshot the Wolverines 45-17. When I
received the shot chart after the second period — Boston
College’s most assertive — Michigan’s zone was so
much more cluttered, I thought that Michigan’s shot-charters
had run out of ink. But, somehow, the Wolverines stayed in the game
and continued to do so until Boston College’s Ben Eaves
finally broke the tie and notched the game-winner 70 minutes and
eight seconds after the puck had initially dropped.
The players in maize and blue were scrappy, they were
opportunistic and they battled hard. Basically, this youthful squad
embodied the style of play that its senior captain, Andy Burnes,
had displayed all season.
In his four years at Michigan, Burnes has never been a player
that lights up the stat sheet. Entering last night, he had
accumulated a career total of just 22 points — three goals
and 19 assists. The defenseman was never a player that everyone
talked about when conversation of the Michigan Icers arose. But
over his four years at Michigan, the Battle Creek native was
consistently excellent in Michigan’s zone. As one of my
friends describes him, “He’s five-foot-nothing,
100-and-nothing pounds and he’s not too fast. But damn,
he’s effective on the defensive end.”
Burnes is the team’s lone senior, and he’s served as
team dad all season long. And last night, he was thrust into the
spotlight in what seemed to have the makings of a fairy-tale
ending. Twelve minutes into the game, Burnes found Mike Brown on a
breakaway, and Brown found the back of the net, giving the
Wolverines a 1-0 lead. The assist was Burnes’s third point of
the season. Then, with three minutes left in the second period,
Burnes received the puck atop Boston College’s left faceoff
circle and took advantage of out-of-position Eagles’ goalie
Matti Kaltiaimen, ripping a slapshot into the back of the net.
Netting his first goal since Jan. 31, 2003, Burnes had given
Michigan an improbable 2-1 lead. Instantly, the minority Michigan
crowd had a new way to express the word, ‘what:’
Burnes the Hero? It was a title he’d never received at
Michigan, but one that he’d earned through four years of role
But sports are strange and unpredictable. And in a regional
title that’s decided in overtime, only one team gets to enjoy
the happy, Disney ending.
At the end of the night, Burnes’s heroics were erased, his
career was over and the seemingly neverending hockey season —
college sports’ version of “The Lord of the Rings
trilogy: director’s cut” — was finished in Ann
“Just to have your career end like that, in such abrupt
fashion is … you know, that’s the way it goes.
It’s sports,” Burnes said with puffy eyes.
“Taking off my jersey for the last time was tough.
“You’re sitting there in the lockerroom, shedding
tears, and the guys come up to you and give you a hug and tell you
they love you and that it has been fun, and that’s when it
hits you (that your career is over). You’ve shared so many
things throughout the year with that group of guys — the ups
and the downs, and things away from the rink. We’re a family;
we experience everything together. When somebody’s hurting on
the team, it affects all of us. Just to not be a part of that on a
daily basis, like it has been the past four years —
it’s going to take some time to adjust to.”
But Burnes also acknowledges that, until Boston College’s
third tally, the game was memorable, especially the high-stress
overtime period that should have come with a warning label for
those susceptible to heart trouble.
“That’s what it’s all about,” Burnes
said of the extra period. “There’s so much emotion out
there. It’s fun.
“That’s why you love sports — that’s why
you love hockey. I’ll look back at (yesterday) with fond
memories, as unfortunate as the outcome is.”
And that’s exactly how Burnes and the rest of the
Wolverines should feel. They fought hard and almost stole a ticket
to the Frozen Four that they had no business having.
Call me soft for not tearing apart a team that fired 28 less
shots than its opponent. Call me a sellout for writing positive
words about a season-ending loss. Call me cliché for
romanticizing a senior captain’s last hurrah. But don’t
call me a cynic, because last night Michigan put out an effort that
gave me no reason to be one.