It was March 30, 1999. New Hampshire freshman goaltender Ty Conklin
turned 23, a graybeard on the NCAA landscape with 25 the maximum age for eligibility.
Three days later, he would play in just his 22nd collegiate game -- for the national championship against arch-rival Maine in Anaheim, Calif.
For Conklin, it would be the first of several memorable marks in a 93-game college career and current 149-game pro career dotted with exclamation points in confined calendars. This weekend marks the 10th anniversary of that scintillating title game -- a gut-wrenching loss in overtime, 3-2, snuffing out UNH's bid for a first national title, while Maine carted its second championship trophy back to Orono under the late Shawn Walsh.
"It didn't end the way I wanted it to, but it was a great game," said Conklin while en route to a Red Wings practice last week. "I know that. They won it on a good shot and a bad rebound."
On a serious note about that goal, Conklin said: "I just tried to accept the disappointment. Not many big, shining memories of that -- a big disappointment."
While one game doesn't define most seasons or careers, Conklin lives with two losses in 24 square feet of infamy: the 1999 NCAA title-game loss and the loss to Carolina on a misplay in Game 1 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Final.
Pressed into third-period action with what would be a season-ending knee injury to Dwayne Roloson
, the stray-from-the-net miscue with 30 seconds remaining in regulation allowed the Canes' Rod Brind'Amour
to break a tie game.
Carolina would go on to win the Cup in seven games.
"Up and down it's been," said Conklin about his pro career with five teams. "I've had a lot of great moments and a lot of times I've had to climb my way back. 'Resilient' would be a pretty good word. I've shaken off some disappointments, and it's gone pretty well when I've had the opportunity to."
At New Hampshire, it went very well in 2 1/2 full seasons of play and only three years of NCAA eligibility from 1998-2001.
"Actually, being older was a benefit," said Conklin, a native of Alaska. "I came in pretty mature and could concentrate on hockey while not involved with the learning things at 17 or 18. One of my best friends went to UNH. The only other team that I was actively being recruited by was BU. My brother had gone to (and played) at Harvard. I wanted to go to school out east and get that feel. UNH was the perfect place for me."
Conklin skated out of Durham with a degree -- and eight records between the Wildcats pipes. Two still stand: career goals-against average at 2.18 and season GAA at 1.84 that first year.
Each of the following two seasons would put him among the 10 Hobey Baker finalists. Conklin and Mike Mottau
(now with the New Jersey Devils
) were named co-players of the year in Hockey East in 2000. He and Brian Gionta
(also now a Devil) were co-winners of the 2001 Walter Brown Award as New England's most outstanding American-born player.
To date, Conklin is also the only Alaska native to play goal in the NHL.
"UNH prepared me for (the NHL) level," said Conklin about the road from Alaska to Shattuck St. Mary's prep school in Minnesota to the USHL Green Bay Gamblers before UNH. "But the resiliency comes from my dad. He never pushed me in hockey. What he did was say, 'If you're going to do something, if I'm going to wake up at 6 in the morning and take you to hockey, you better work out and prepare and play hard.' "
"We had a really solid team, and that first year, we didn't give up much," said Conklin, who took over the starting role halfway through that season. "That set the bar for me to play at that level. The following two years I think I was more of a factor than the first year; we had (Jason) Krog ('99 Hobey Baker winner) and (Darren) Haydar that carried the ('99) team."
Conklin would take the Wildcats back to the NCAA postseason in 2000.
"Up and down it's been. I've had a lot of great moments and a lot of times I've had to climb my way back. 'Resilient' would be a pretty good word. I've shaken off some disappointments, and it's gone pretty well when I've had the opportunity to."
-- Ty Conklin
Reflecting back a decade, Conklin said: "I learned so much from (UNH coach) Dick (Umile) -- more than hockey. And I had a great influence from Dave Lassonde. He was the first full-time goalie coach I'd see everyday. He really instilled in me how to play. As a goalie you need that to get back to basics and get out any funk. You can have all the athleticism in the world, but you have to think you can stop the puck."
Conklin has been making stops -- and stopping the puck – throughout his NHL career in Edmonton, Columbus, Buffalo, Pittsburgh and now Detroit. Last season, he stepped in when Marc-Andre Fleury
went down, and rattled off nine-straight wins and a 17-6-5 record before Fleury's return and Pittsburgh's eventual run to the Cup Final. He was 18-8-5 overall with a .923 save percentage, best in franchise history.
Conklin was also the Penguins' 2008 nominee for the Masterton Trophy for the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to ice hockey.
After signing a one-year contract this season in Detroit, his debut on Nov. 17 was a 4-0 win against the Oilers. This season, Conklin has posted a 25-10-5 record with the Red Wings.
"Everybody goes through ups and downs everywhere, not just in sports," said Conklin, now 33. "So resiliency is needed by everybody. You see it in athletes because you're seeing them play."
Ask Ty Conklin
, who has three kids and is a licensed pilot, about his retirement plans, and he responds in another very confined calendar around a hopeful hoisting of Lord Stanley.
"To be honest, I don't know yet," he said. "This spring should keep me pretty busy; so I'll concentrate on that for now."