The following story is delivered in a format atypical to sports news. A few weeks ago, several members of the USM women’s ice hockey team contacted The Free Press about the fact that their team’s record of success had gone virtually unnoticed. Instead of just doing a feature on them, we thought it would be interesting to have a hockey player tell first-hand what the championship experience had been like–how it actually felt to be on the ice.
The team lost out in the first round of the championships 2-1 to Manhattanville College, after a banner 15-5-2 season, ranked tenth in the Division III Eastern College Athletic Conference(ECAC).
It’s 5:30 on Friday night. We’re on the bus again. I’m sitting in the back, like I always do. Avery is standing in the aisle in front of me- I just don’t think she can take sitting down any longer. The people are the same…the seating arrangements are too. Aube, Beth, Stacey, Tricia, Avery, Katie, True and myself…we’re the group that always sits in back.
We shift from goofing around to sleeping or sitting in almost pure silence. It’s just like any other roadtrip. Only it isn’t. It’s totally different. Tomorrow night we play the kind of game the USM women’s hockey team has never played before: a playoff game. Our opponents, Manhattanville; the stakes, everything. This roadtrip is different because if we win, we keep going in the championship. If we lose, we stop. My body is tired. I’d say it seems like only yesterday that we started pre-season, but it doesn’t. It’s been a long year.
My body hurts, but I’m not alone. We all hurt, we’re all tired, we’d all stop now, but we can’t. Not because coach won’t let us, but because our desire won’t let us. We all need rest, but we all want the same thing: a championship. And our quest for that starts now. Gone are the days long ago when the boys said it couldn’t be done. It’s just us now, and a dream.
So here we are…the ECAC Quarter-Finals in New Rochelle, NY. The rink is amazing. There is a mural covering three of the four walls- one half is the American flag, and the other half is the Canadian flag. It’s even 3D in the middle, behind the benches. We step onto the ice for warm-ups, and a wave of sheer excitement crashes through me. We keep trying to tell ourselves that it’s just another rink, just another game…but we all know deep down that it isn’t.
The crowd is amazing. Almost all of the parents drove out for this game. As we skate, the chant of “Go blue!” can be heard throughout the arena. We’ve been out there warming up now for about 10 minutes, and sweat is pouring from my body. My heart is racing. I have so much energy, I feel like I am going to burst. The national anthem is played and I can’t wipe the smile off of my face. We’re finally here, the playoffs, where we belong. We go to the bench and crowd around one another in the tightest cluster possible and send a cheer of “INTENSITY!” up to the rafters. Opening face-off…the puck is dropped…it’s game time.
It’s 8:20 on Saturday night. We’re on the bus again. Manhattanville just slipped past us 2-1. Our season is over. But I’m content, and I think my teammates are as well. We should be. We had an amazing season, and we should all be proud of ourselves and one another. The scoreboard may not have shown it, but we were the winners tonight. We were the winners this season. What a wild ride it was. I remember our season opener against Middlebury, the defending champions. Half-way through that game I knew this team was something special.
This year we were ranked nationally for the first time in the team’s history. We beat six teams that we had never beaten before. It started with Rensselaer on Dec 2. We beat them 4-0. The following day we played the University of Vermont. It was a tight game, and in the end we pulled out a 3-2 victory. We used that as the starting point and built from there. We were a team of fighters. We never gave up. Regardless of the score we dug until the final buzzer. Our hard work and character made our season a success and would later define us as a team.
The last few weeks were hard. We were all exhausted. The season is so draining that you feel it all over. But it’s worth it. It’s a radiating exhaustion that penetrates your very soul. You feel it in your arms, your legs, your mind, and your heart. Eventually desire, and your teammates are the only thing that keep you going. We’ve got bumps, bruises, and a number of injuries, but it’s about digging down really deep inside yourself. It’s about going hard until it hurts, and then going harder. It’s about wanting something enough to give everything to get it.
Sometimes at practice, when we were sprinting, and my body was screaming, I would look to sophomore defenseman Avery McGill. “We’re here because we love it,” she would always say. And often times those six words made all the difference in the world.
For so long we were told it couldn’t be done. We were told that we, as girls, would never make it in the world of ice hockey. But now, after only our third varsity season, we’ve established ourselves as contenders. It’s an incredible feeling to know you’ve succeeded.