With the San Jose Sharks in our nation’s capital, it’s always interesting to hear the perspectives of the American citizens on the team’s roster, especially as they consider some free time after practice at the Verizon Center today.
Whether it’s Joe Pavelski’s special memories of visiting the Library of Congress and national archives, where he saw some historically significant items, or whether it’s Justin Braun’s anticipation of strolling to the Lincoln Memorial, it’s impossible not to feel a sense of patriotism and good fortune that we are either Americans or simply living and working in the United States. It is, indeed, our good fortune to be doing so.
But as we reflect by the Reflecting Pool, it’s also important to note that the Verizon Center is a memorable place for a couple of Sharks who played the biggest game of their lives there before they ever thought seriously about donning an NHL uniform.
It was April 11, 2009, and the NCAA Frozen Four hockey tournament was being played at the Verizon Center. In the national semi-finals two nights earlier, Boston University defeated Vermont, 5-4, and Miami University defeated Bemidji State, 4-1, to earn the way to the championship game. B.U. trailed, 4-3, in its game, before scoring two goals in 1:13 midway through the third period to advance, with the winning goal scored by future Nashville Predator Colin Wilson. Miami had rolled through Bemidji on the strength of a two-goal, one-assist performance by future San Jose Shark Tommy Wingels.
But now, it was for all the marbles. 18,512 college hockey fans jammed into the Verizon Center, hoping for a night to really remember, and what they got was an incredible game with a crazy ending that provided some evidence why holding a two-goal lead is “the worst lead in hockey.”
After the teams exchanged goals in the first two periods, Wingels put Miami in front, 2-1, with 7:29 to play. Trent Vogelhuber made it a 3-1 Miami lead with 4:08 to play, and with one minute to play, it appeared as if Miami’s longstanding quest to win the national championship was about to happen.
But on the other side of the ice, Boston University was refusing to fold its hand, and with one minute to play, they had goaltender Kieran Millan on the bench for an extra attacker. It was time for the crazy ending.
Current Anaheim Ducks center Nick Bonino, who had been drafted 173rd overall by the Sharks in 2007, was on the ice, and along with Brandon Yip, now playing in the Phoenix organization, got the puck to Zach Cohen for an extra-attacker goal with 59 seconds to play. Miami still led, 3-2.
Forty-three seconds later, with the extra attacker on the ice, Bonino tied the game, 3-3, on passes from Matt Gilroy, currently playing in Florida, and Chris Higgins, who is currently playing in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Instead of a handshake at the end of regulation, the national championship game was headed to overtime.
In overtime, Boston University would complete its incredible comeback, with Colby Cohen notching the winning goal at the 11:47 mark. The assists went to Kevin Shattenkirk, now playing for the St. Louis Blues, and Chris Connolly, currently splitting time between Tampere, Finland and Iserlohn, Germany. Boston University had won its fifth national championship, and the NCAA championship game had gone into overtime for the 13th time in history.
Fast-forward a couple of years later to February 13, 2012, back at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC. The Sharks were playing the Capitals in NHL action on this occasion, and Wingels was back in the building for the first time.
As it turned out, the hotel rooming list had Wingels coincidentally put together with John McCarthy. As many know, McCarthy was a co-captain of the winning team from Commonwealth Avenue, and was named “Unsung Hero” of that particular Boston University team by his school.
Well, in the game played on that night, the roommates and teammates were on the winning side. On the strength of a two-goal, two-assist performance by U.S. Olympian Joe Pavelski, and two more goals from Canadian Olympian Patrick Marleau, not to mention three assists from Joe Thornton, and 39 saves from Thomas Greiss, the Sharks took a 5-1 lead with 12:57 to play, and held on to win, 5-3. Alex Ovechkin played 26:45 that game, and was held off the scoresheet by the Sharks netminder, despite putting 6 shots on goal.
Fast-forward to the present. The Sharks are back at Verizon Center for practice, and I’m reading an account of an exciting college game played at Madison Square Garden this past weekend between Yale and Harvard in front of 15,524 spectators and won by Yale, 5-1. It reminded me of the old ECAC Holiday Hockey Festival, also played at Madison Square Garden and featuring my alma mater, St. Lawrence University, in many of the games played between 1962 and 1977.
I have three unrelated thoughts:
- The Sharks are looking for inspiring performances on this road trip, and here, at the site of one of their most memorable moments, it would be really great to see Wingels and McCarthy pick up some points in a Sharks victory against the Capitals on Tuesday.
- Given that Hockey East plays its championship tournament at TD Garden, I’d like to see if the rival ECAC could somehow schedule its championship tournament at Madison Square Garden. Now, there’s nothing wrong with Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid, where the tournament is currently held and where my alma mater played in another NCAA championship game that went to overtime. But to have TD Garden host one Eastern college championship and Madison Square Garden the other would be great for the sport, excellent cooperation with the NHL arenas, and an enhancement of the Eastern league rivalries.
- Given the appearance of the NCAA Frozen Four in NHL buildings, including Washington, wouldn’t it be fantastic to see it come to SAP Center at San Jose? Over the years, there has been definite interest, but so far, it hasn’t happened. Attention, NCAA: it would be a great success in Silicon Valley if it came to pass.
Now, it’s back to the Reflecting Pool to reflect some more, as Tuesday’s game awaits. I’m Dan Rusanowsky, for sjsharks.com.