The Scoreboard

March 25, 2020

Captain Sami Jo Henry and Minot State finished No. 2, again. Photo: Minot State Women’s Hockey

Coaches have a lot of tough conversations with their teams, in fact, it’s a significant part of the job. From the extremely minor positioning corrections to the more serious matters like off-ice discipline issues, there’s a well-creased (if entirely internal) handbook for dealing with various degrees of unpleasantness. The coach generally starts his or her career with a foundation built on a mélange of personal values and ideas taken from past mentors during a playing career. Then, as time moves forward, they can fine tune things based on experiences, seminars and other peer conversations, and the input of a staff.

All in all, it’s an effective system that finds an intersection between best practices and individual styles, and has benefited millions of coaches and athletes throughout the history of organized sports.

However, there’s just no chapter in that handbook for the unprecedented meeting Minot State head coach Ryan Miner had with his Beavers on the morning of March 12th. So he had to write his own for one of the toughest of the tough conversations any coach has had with any team, even if they already sensed what was coming: thanks to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, second-ranked MSU won’t be able to take their earned shot at a national championship. The ACHA, following the lead of public health experts and other sports organizations, had canceled its national tournament festival, originally slated to begin today just outside of Dallas for women’s teams.

“[The morning of March 12th] Ryan texted me saying we needed to gather everyone in between our classes, and I kind of said to him like well we have class so it will have to be quick,” Beavers captain Sami Jo Henry said. “And he responded to me with ‘everyone must be there.’ When he said that I knew it was going to be canceled, because he usually tells me beforehand what a meeting is going to be about, so as soon as I felt that distance, I knew it was bad. It was pretty tough to sit through my morning class knowing that was probably going to be the outcome.”

“When [other sports leagues] started canceling, our national tournament was kind of up in the air, and we knew in the back of our heads that it was gonna happen,” Miner said. “Right away, we wanted to sit the girls down and tell them before it got released on social media, and going into that meeting, we knew there was going to be a lot of emotion.”

“It was probably one of the toughest meetings that my coaching staff and I have had to go through in terms of just telling them that their season’s done.”

Careers abruptly ended. An entire year rendered moot. A legitimate shot at an all-too-elusive championship gone.

“I think the hardest part about it is that we had such a successful season, and having that opportunity taken away from us especially, since we had the opportunity to win a national championship,” Miner added. “It’s a big ‘what if’ and it’s kind of devastating.”

“There was a lot of emotion and anger,” Henry, who was recently named first-team All-American, said. “I know I was very angry and mad because it is something you have no control over. Losing out is something [where] you have control, but having it taken away like this is not. Lots of hugs and love spread around our team because we are so close, and we do care a lot about this team.”

For Minot State, this year was both a redemption tour and a booming debut.

For the last two seasons, as a Division 2 team, the Beavers steamrolled just about everyone on the way to 21-4-1 and 24-1-0 regular season records, including a combined 10-2-0 mark against Division 1 opponents. But both years ended in national championship game defeats, with Lakehead winning their second straight title in 2018. Last year’s result was the real stunner though, as MSU was upset by Assiniboine by a 1-0 score, a result that flew in the face of the Beavers’ 6-0-0 mark against ACC through the regular season, including 7-1 and 9-2 wins during its final weekend.

Minot then moved up to Division 1, continued some of the ACHA’s best recruiting efforts, and were nearly as dominant at the higher level, going 18-4-1 in ACHA games (including 7-4-0 against fellow national tournament invitees) and winding up second in the rankings, while also coming agonizingly close to a conference championship in the brutally-tough Women’s Midwest College Hockey. Heading to Texas as one of the favorites, the Beavers were certainly driven to complete the job on an even bigger stage.

“We thought we had a pretty good chance this year,” Henry said. “We were ready to start prepping game film on our first and potential second round matchups, and had big plans leading up to the national tournament. [It was a] huge disappointment for us losing that conference final, but we wanted to take it and prepare for them at nationals.”

Now…we’ll never know how it would have turned out. MSU is a program on the rise and will certainly have other days. But those days might come without a senior class of Mackenzie Balogh – one of the ACHA’s best players ever – Shelby Tornato, and Brooke Mead that had seen the program forward from its early days and now probably won’t make it to the finish line. While each could theoretically use a fifth year of eligibility on one more shot, doing so can often be complicated by academics and finances.

“I really just feel for our seniors especially Mack, she is one of my best friends and my roommate in Minot,” Henry lamented. “It’s just sad it had to end like that for her because she is one of the best, if not the best, players Minot will ever have. I enjoyed playing with her every year I did, including high school together, so it is a very sad time knowing we will never get that chance again.”

“She deserved a ring and I really wanted to win one for her.”

The 2019-20 Beavers will forever remain an unfinished story, but just one of many truncated by the pandemic.

Liberty’s Division 2 team is also compelling for what it lost in the cancellation. The formerly-downtrodden program abruptly rose to prominence in 2017-18 and made an appearance at the ACHA National Tournament that season. But the Flames were even better last year, steamrolling to a College Hockey East title over Delaware – yet not qualifying for nationals thanks to an extremely odd and poorly-communicated awarding of the CHE autobid to Mercyhurst (which hadn’t even won its division during the regular season, let alone the playoff title). So, the champs had to sit next to their trophy on the couch and fire up YouTube to watch the Lakers and Buffalo represent the league in Dallas.

Delaney Adams and Liberty will also miss an overdue shot at nationals. Photo: Danielle Bergen

This was the season meant to correct that wrong, as Brittany Hegele, Paige Arnosti, Holly Turner, and company left no doubt as to their nationals chops, and were ready to take a run at a manageable pool round schedule.

“Obviously this season meant a lot, when we started the season, we didn’t really know what to expect,” Flames defenseman Delaney Adams said. “We lost people and gained a few new ones, but we just kinda focused on having fun and kept nationals as our goal.”

Now…the goal will remain unfulfilled. The Flames still have a young roster and presumably will make a credible run at the 2021 tournament and CHE championship, but that’s hardly a guarantee. Motivations change, players change, and the competition changes. There will never be another moment identical to the one that just passed.

“When I got the news, I was at lunch with one of the other captains, we were both kinda shocked and extremely upset,” Adams continued. “We were so lost on why this happened because we got cheated out of nationals for two years. We just went to the gym and skipped classes to try to get our brains to slow down a bit.”

Perhaps nobody’s reality is quite as tragic as Lindenwood-Belleville, a team fighting against the ending of all endings, well beyond the expiration of any one player’s or class’ eligibility: that of the school and team itself, a bombshell that dropped shortly after a loss in the 2019 national championship game.

All year long, LUB used the rallying cry “last Lynx” in an attempt to will themselves to a title that was just as much about demonstrating their worthiness to those who killed their school as it was about finishing on top of the ACHA. The determination of whether a doomed team could manage to end on a title – literally, the plot of hockey’s most famous movie – was maybe the single most anticipated question of the tournament.

Now…it will remain forever unanswered and LUB’s existence will always be saddled with a maddeningly-ambiguous conclusion, right alongside The Sopranos’ infamous Don’t Stop Believin’-backed cut to black. At least with a TV show, the use of imagination and interpretation is permitted and even encouraged. Hockey is supposed to have a scoreboard for that, and you can be damn sure that the Lynx would pay anything to roll the dice just one more time.

It’s Minot State, Liberty, and Lindenwood-Belleville. It’s also Colorado, trying to avenge a 2018 defeat to Liberty’s Division 1 team with key players like Maura Kieft and Lexi Hartmann about to move on. It’s Boston College, New England’s best D2 squad for the last few years, and their underrated seniors like Peyton King and Jess Olivieri. It’s Michigan State trying to get a bit of a tournament albatross off their backs while taking one last shot with two-time Zoe Harris Award winner and former World University Games captain Maddie Wolsmann.

Everyone has a story. But like Miner, nobody has the chapter they need right now.

In absolute terms, the situation actually hasn’t cost that much. Seventeen of the 25 Division 1 teams and 39 of the 51 Division 2 teams managed to successfully complete their 2019-20 seasons. For the other eight and 12 who qualified for nationals, there were a maximum of five additional games on the table. Hockey’s sacrifice, in a strict numbers sense, wasn’t anywhere near that of the spring sports, which were cut off early in their seasons, prompting both the NCAA and NAIA to quickly grant those student-athletes an extra year of eligibility that may or may not be coming for the hockey players and other winter competitors.

And the hard reality is that only one team in each ACHA division gets to win the national championship – most participants would’ve seen their seasons end in a loss, regardless of the pandemic. Minot State and Lindenwood-Belleville are both in Division 1, so it would have been impossible for both of those stories to have a happy ending. In any realistic sense, there was at least as much chance that the three teams I’ve discussed would have been shut out of the titles as there was of any of them bringing one home.

One could even take it a step further and argue that, in some rational sense, the Lynx’s WMCH third-place game victory over rival McKendree on a lightly-attended Sunday morning on home ice is a better outcome as a season’s final game than most of the available possibilities at nationals. Others, like Rowan, Mercyhurst, and Northern Michigan did even better than LUB, ending their seasons with on-ice league tournament celebrations.

But that’s not really the point, is it?

As part of my pandemic-mandated social distancing efforts, I decided to binge The Office. The show had, for most of its run, been appointment viewing, but I (along with at least a couple others, I suppose) fell off the wagon when Steve Carell left late in the seventh of its nine seasons. In fact, other than the series finale, I had never seen any of the post-Carell episodes. So, okay, the last two seasons might not be quite on the same level as the rest of the show, but it would still be new-to-me television, an only slightly-watered-down version of something I’ve enjoyed watching, right?

Wrong. Despite my best intentions, it didn’t hold my interest. I knew the ending, so the road there became significantly diminished. I just couldn’t generate the same investment in the characters or the story when I already knew where everything was headed – if you know that Dwight and Angela get married and that Jim and Pam end up okay, you suddenly don’t worry quite as much about those couples’ respective hiccups.

It’s not that Ralph Waldo Emerson and Aerosmith were entirely wrong when they came up with that stuff about journeys and destinations, it’s just that they underestimated the extent to which each depends on the other. The journey feels unimportant with a pre-determined destination, and few destinations are worth an unfulfilling journey without challenge and conflict.

That’s why cold calculations of games played and games remaining in a hockey season, the percentage of a journey experienced, break down at a certain level. The unclear destination of a game, a season, or a career is a vital part of what we accept as people with an interest in sports, in any capacity. Even if that destination is heartbreak.

The scoreboard at Frisco, TX’s Comerica Center will remain off for the foreseeable future

The scoreboard, either literal or metaphorical, is the fundamental contract of sports. You might not make the team, you might not be where you want in the lineup, or you might lose the game. But if you pay the price along the way, you get to take your best shot at the scoreboard, whether it hangs above the ice or only exists on a coach’s clipboard.

It’s the single inalienable truth about all of this, the single core value we all share. Whether it’s some LED-illuminated monstrosity in an NHL facility or an old-fashioned lightbulb matrix in a community rink, we live by the scoreboard and the idea that performance trumps all. We trust that, whatever the scoreboard shows at the end of a playoff game or a tryout or anything in between, it’s an accurate accounting of not only that day’s events, but also a cumulative judgment of every practice, every trip to the weight room, every film study, and every shot against a basement wall up until that point taken by everyone who participated. It’s years and decades of sweat equity, boiled down to simple data that gloriously illuminates where things stand at a moment in time.

That’s what feels so incongruous here, so unquestionably wrong. While seasons and careers end in defeat for most, not having the opportunity to take a shot at the scoreboard – after paying the required price to do so – is much, much worse than any game result. When the pact of the scoreboard is broken, when coaches must tell teams that the final scoreboard they’ve been dangling as motivation since the season’s first dryland no longer exists, it irreparably damages the entire concept of sports as a competitive pursuit.

This would normally be the point where I shift tone while attempting to find some silver lining, in order to at least close on an optimistic note. But I’m not sure that one exists here. Opportunities were lost, careers and even programs wrapped up prematurely on open-ended terms, and both journeys and destinations disappeared while forever arrived and the scoreboards remained off.

Outside of hockey and sports, of course, the world is dealing with a terrifying virus of a scale not witnessed in modern times. Some people are dying, others have lost their sources of income while most businesses are closed to contain things as much as possible, causing the economy to tank. Even the presently-unaffected are living in perpetual fear, washing their hands and buying toilet paper at feverish rates while wondering if and when the tsunami will crash down on themselves or loved ones, while most political leaders seem more concerned with spin and blame assignment than solutions.

Worst of all, nobody can say with much certainty when the crisis will pass, whether it’s a timeframe best counted in weeks or months, or what the sum of the devastation may be at that point. Reliable information is scarce, and positive reliable information is nearly impossible. And, of course, most of the things we ordinarily rely on to help us through the hard times have been taken away.

However, just when I was ready to write things off, I noticed something in Miner’s season-closing press conference. He started by answering the obligatory questions about the cancelation and his senior class of course, but about halfway through, he seamlessly pivoted into talking about recruiting and the construction of the Beavers’ 2020-21 schedule. The scoreboard may have failed him once, but he still believes in it. He’s still pushing towards that next time it’s ready to tell him whether he’s filled the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds worth of distance run.

Michigan-Dearborn does too. The Wolverines offered one of the first forward-looking statements I saw in the hockey world after the pandemic shut down most of society, retweeting a graphic from the Michigan High School Athletic Association defiantly insisting that “we will play again.” Adams’ Liberty team, newcomer Maryville and Midland have recently announced commitments, and all three will certainly also stand and be counted when the time comes and have a renewed appreciation for the opportunity.

In the rear-view mirror, of course, are the miles driven in 2019-20. They were too few to reach the end of the journey, but they are still worth some degree of celebration and reflection. The ACHA announced its individual award winners last week, and Henry, who narrowly lost out to Michigan State’s Wolsmann for the Zoe Harris Award, was still able to draw some good from the campaign.

“Positives are hard to come about in a situation like this, [but] we had a very good inaugural season in Division 1, ending in the second ranked spot,” she said. “I think we learned a lot about ourselves as a team and created an identity, which is something you can always build on.”

Adams also found a positive nugget in the chaos.

“We had a lot of injuries so I think it’s potentially positive now we can heal and have a lot of time to train,” she said.

“But right now, it feels like an L.”

The Overnight

WMCH Playoffs
FSI Shark Tank
St. Louis, MO

March 6-8, 2020


Sometime around midnight, at a Love’s Travel Stop in Mooresville, Indiana, I decided to take stock of my life. There’s something about sleeping in your car that pushes you to do that I suppose, since it’s not a thing one generally does at the end of their best days. Working out some of the primary logistics (which parking spot attracts the least attention, how you’re going to lay in the car, where and how you’re going to clean up in the morning, your plan B if some try-hard manager knocks on your window at 3 a.m.) can keep your mind busy for a little bit, but once that’s done, the options are somewhat limited.

Sure, in this modern age, I have a pocket-sized computer with me at all times. I could’ve easily fired up Hulu and found limitless entertainment that way, although given a nearly-broken charger and car battery paranoia, I decided to ensure that my alarm goes off in the morning and that I don’t end up stranded at an out-of-state truck stop.

Instead, I chose to open a well-worn copy of a book, Hard Promises, a self-published compilation of essays about mid-major college basketball written by Kyle Whelliston. Whelliston was my spiritual forebear and an inspiration, spending nearly a decade fighting sanity and expense while traveling around the country and writing about teams that dwell on a different plane than the North Carolinas and Kentuckys of the world.

For a time, he had a job with ESPN, but mostly he wrote on his own website, Mid-Majority, and was underwritten by his readers. He managed to find the romanticism in the struggle of lightly-followed and lightly-funded teams that will never win a national championship, while telling the stories of those who occupy that world in a way that set him apart from standard-fare sports features.

I instinctively found one of my favorite passages:

It doesn’t get much lonelier than sitting alone in an enclosed, locked, metal container in the middle of American Nowhere. It’s a feeling that encourages a perspective of the universe as viewed from the spectral prism of one’s navel. It helps reinforce the ridiculous illusion of the Self as a singular, special, unique entity on a planet of billions, a “me” adrift amongst an invisible them.

None of the colleges I visited offered classes in Loneliness Studies, and none ever advertised a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in that or any related discipline. But there’s no understanding the power of loneliness as an unstoppable primal force. Our efforts to escape it explain just about everything we do. To stop running from loneliness is to face skull-crushing existential self-absorption, to confront the little-g god inside.

Why else would someone go on the internet and write 1800 posts and 1.5 million words about mid-major college basketball?

Nine paragraphs later, Whelliston finished that post, hit “publish,” then strapped a time bomb to his entire website, the thing that had been the center of his universe for a significant chunk of his existence. After eight years, he had been lonely enough.

In some ways, my eighth year of existence in the ACHA women’s divisions has been even more isolated than Whelliston’s was in his world. Miami RedHawks men’s basketball may not be the most popular sports team on the planet, but it’s certainly more followed than Miami RedHawks women’s hockey.

Although the travel crushed his spirit and his personal life, Whelliston did cultivate a healthy community around his work. Many of his disciples continue to use his unique lexicon and maxims across the internet, and some even participate in an annual game he invented, where players attempt to avoid learning who won the Super Bowl for as long as possible (several this year have yet to learn what’s called “The Knowledge,” and yes, it’s about as hard as it sounds, I tried one time and made it until precisely three seconds following the end of the game, when Fanatics sent me an email hawking Baltimore Ravens championship merchandise).

Me, I have players, coaches, and parents, and that’s about it. Some don’t care for me, a few say horrible things about me well out of proportion to anything I’ve ever said about them, a couple have even tried to get me in real-world trouble, and it seems like the threshold for retribution gets lower and lower all the time. Others…well, do they actually like me, or do they merely tolerate me because I occasionally tweet something nice about them or their team?

Generally, the parents are there as enforcers, the coaches either don’t take me seriously or are mad at me over some opinion I had at one time or another, and the players stay the same age while I keep getting older – I could’ve passed for a peer when I started, but now I get the full-on adult treatment of “friendly, but fundamentally separated.” A few years after anyone from those groups leaves the ACHA, they’re unlikely to even remember I exist.

If you’re looking for validation or community from anyone on any kind of broad scale, no matter how many words you put on the internet, you’re going to spiral into a self-loathing mess. Just trust me on that. You’re never going to get as many retweets or pageviews or donations as you think you deserve. Just as painfully, you’re going to have to watch others who aren’t willing to sleep in their cars en route to a game eight hours away get more attention for doing less, essentially only because they’re engaged with the “right” kinds of hockey, the men’s game or the women’s national teamers, pros, and NCAA players. By the end of the weekend, my radar will be jammed full of the NWHL and WCHA playoffs, with nothing at all about what I’m doing, besides the stuff I said myself.

Others in my life are aware of my activities, but don’t understand them, and certainly don’t consume any of my content. Every so often, someone outside of the ACHA world will ask where I’m going on a given weekend. Sometimes it’s Michigan, sometimes it’s Chicago, one time it was Colorado. This time, it’s St. Louis. “Oh, are you going to see the arch?” they might say. Somehow, when teams visit Lindenwood-Belleville or McKendree, there’s always time for the arch, or that stupid bean in Chicago, or any of about 800 things in Boston, followed by the obligatory Instagram posts from most of the roster.


But no, I’m not going to see the arch, at least not beyond the view from I-55 or the photo on the cover of the WMCH tournament program, which is probably more than I experience most of the places I visit.

Tomorrow morning, I’m going to finish my drive to a flooring warehouse that happens to have an ice rink in it, then I’m going to watch three hockey games, then I’m going to find another truck stop far enough away from the city to feel safe and sleep again. Then I’m going to watch a couple more hockey games and drive home in time for work on Monday. I’ll eat, sure, but not at any of the places on a list of things you have to do in St. Louis. Most of it will be gas station food, some of it will be whatever is offered at the rink, maybe I’ll find time to make a run to Crazy Bowls and Wraps if I feel like living it up.

This is a club hockey trip, and I am a person of club hockey means. And right now, I’m alone with my worst thoughts at the Chrysler Inn, looking at the universe through the spectral prism of my navel.

The 500 ASMR videos that are uploaded to YouTube every day aren’t nearly enough for the situation at hand, which includes firing up the car every so often to fight temperatures dipping below 30 degrees, but things still look a little better in daylight, on the other side of a groggy half-sleep.

Almost immediately, a pull I’ve felt a thousand times but still can’t quite explain takes over. It’s 7:00 in Indiana, there’s a hockey game at 12:15 in St. Louis, and I need to get there. To be clear, I’m not entirely sure why I need to get there. It’s a consolation match where I have no role whatsoever, other than as a spectator – I haven’t even promised anyone that I was going to be there or write about it. But I need to get there, that much isn’t negotiable.

I suppose when you really dive into it, that’s the part that makes me unusual, since I don’t occupy a world that has fans. Everyone at a women’s ACHA game is a family member or a significant other or a close friend, and I’m the socially-awkward loner guy who shows up, watches the game, tweets about it, maybe does a couple interviews or casually chats with a couple people, then heads home.

If I had decided to pour my entire capability into attending every home, away, and bowl game played by a college football team instead while obsessing over the latest top ten given by some high school kid, I’d be celebrated as a hardcore fan. But here, I’m weird. As far as I’m aware, I’ve never actually given anyone legitimate cause to think I’m weird, save for the fact that my existence is inherently so, and people can often extrapolate. But the burden to prove a negative is on me.

Or I could just disappear. But at the same time, I’m honestly not sure what I’m supposed to be doing. Cranking out a daughter, with a mother to be named later, and waiting a few years to become a hockey dad seems like a pretty steep admission price just to go to an amateur girls or women’s game without putting anyone off.

I could find a less unusual hobby to chew up my disposable time and income, I guess. Would it somehow be more acceptable to play golf all the time? What about going to bars and finding the meaning of our collective existence at the bottom of a Jack and Coke? Crossword puzzles? Mountain climbing? Antiquing? I could probably stay home on the weekends and watch NHL games on TV, and maybe even write about them. Or, as mentioned, there are always the 18-22 year olds in a more popular college sport with more socially-accepted fandoms.

But, for whatever reason, women’s ACHA hockey – and, perhaps just as importantly, going to see it in person – is what sets my soul on fire. Through some impossible-to-articulate confluence of my past, my present, and my psychology, it feels like what I was meant to do at this moment in time. It doesn’t make a ton of sense in any objective way (and sorting through the different ways people tell me as much does get tiring) but if I possessed a complete understanding of the human brain, I’d probably be able to afford a hotel room.

I see a sign for some nothing town in a southern Illinois corridor full of them named St. Elmo, and get the itch to listen to St. Elmo’s Fire, the song from the classic Brat Pack film of the same name.

I can see a new horizon underneath the blazing sky
I’ll be where the eagle’s flying higher and higher
Gonna be your man in motion
All I need is a pair of wheels
Take me where the future’s lying St. Elmo’s fire

That enclosed, locked, metal container in the middle of American Nowhere can be a prison. Or you can roll down the windows, belt out some cheesy synth pop at the top of your lungs, remember that you’re on your own schedule, doing what you love, and traveling to watch the greatest activity our species has invented to this point, and I promise that you’ll never feel freer or more alive.

Ultimately, someday, I’m going to lose all of those battles, because each of us does, whether upon death or through a gradual chipping of the veneer of first-world liberty. Maybe I’ll get laid off and run out of money. Maybe my next girlfriend will, in fact, force to me to go antiquing on weekends (the early Bumble conversations with 30-somethings that start with big travel plans and quickly move on to jobs and excruciating adult minutiae aren’t promising on that front), or maybe we’ll pop out that hockey kid. Maybe I’ll be blindsided by something else.

But on this day, at this moment, in St. Elmo, Illinois, the choice is completely and undeniably mine. I choose life. I choose to chase that little spark of madness from the Robin Williams meme everyone shared on his passing, only to sneer at those who actually heed the advice.


After the self-doubt, regret, and St. Elmo moments of clarity, someone will always make you glad you showed up. The redemption is not always some grand gesture, it usually isn’t in fact, but any reminder that some people see and appreciate the effort, time, and expense it takes to follow a brand of hockey that often can’t be followed without actually attending the games tends to be enough in most cases.

This time, McKendree assistant coach Nina Elia, star Midland defenseman Ally Conybear, and Minot State captain Sami Jo Henry gave me what I needed to see the value in the overnight. On other occasions, it’s been things like Michigan-Dearborn announcing my presence over the public address, several Robert Morris players wanting to pose for a photo at the end of a particularly tough week, or Lindenwood-Belleville’s Kate Tihema giving me a crumpled Australian national team hat that was undoubtedly stuffed in the bottom of her hockey bag for a while.

At the rink – any rink, really – the bad stuff almost always washes off, which is good, because shower wipes have limits. And despite what some may say, including myself at times, I have made friends simply from attempting to run my best race until the wheels come off. It’s certainly not everyone, but it is someone.

Oh yeah, and there’s the hockey too.

Many times, you know exactly what you’re going to get on the other end of a drive. But the thing is, a certain number of 9-1 quackers can be tolerable, because sometimes hockey can defy every one of your expectations and deliver something magical. A winless Concordia squad can play the best game in program history. Davenport goalie Julia Gaynor can score twice. Underdog Mercyhurst can win a conference title in triple overtime, two overtimes after the ten-player roster looked barely able to stand on their skates.

Then there are the ones where every shift matters, and just watching it can wear you out because of the intense focus needed to ensure that you absorb as much of it as possible and don’t miss That Moment. Every WMCH playoff game was solid as a baseline, appropriately enough as the league’s membership is six very good teams, but two contests stood out: Minot State’s 1-0 semifinal win over host Lindenwood-Belleville, and Liberty’s 2-1 defeat of the Beavers in the next day’s championship match.

Each of those, between two of the top three teams in the rankings, displayed the best hockey the ACHA has to offer, and were quite possibly the first two games I’d offer up if trying to sell someone on the product. They were absolutely riveting if you appreciate this sport even a little, from Minot freshman Jordan Ivanco shutting out a powerful Lynx team, to Beavers linemates Henry and Mackenzie Balogh combining on a pair of sublime goals, to Liberty’s Alex Smibert breaking loose down left wing off of an offsides draw and firing home a title winner with 17 seconds remaining.

And sure, the Flames won the inaugural WMCH trophy, but there’s no reason to expect anything less than another round when all three of those teams head to Dallas in a couple weeks as leading national championship contenders.

It may be a mostly-solitary life, but there’s plenty of living to do.