Behind the Scenes of NCAA Regional Ice Hockey
Wow, what an experience. “There are no one and four seeds anymore, the day where the one seed has a huge advantage over the four seed are gone in my eyes” said Cornell head coach Mike Shafer in a post game interview. And that is why I love march madness. Anything can happen on any given day. Goals are so precious this time of year on the ice. Just a few thoughts from the day to start off this amazing experience.
Started off the day by heading to IHOP to get a coupe hotcakes to start off fresh. Enjoyed some Coldstone Creamery before coming to the rink. Got to the rink and checked in and got our NCAA All Access passes to allow to us to go anywhere in the rink we want. Ian then told me that I was going to be working with ESPN and there live stats, always wanted to work for ESPN in some way or form. Nate and I had to go talk to the guys in the truck to discuss what we were exactly going to be doing for them. They wanted us to keep track of all the stats you don’t see on the internet so we kept track of hits, face-offs won, power play shots, odd man rushes, and scoring chances. Everything that you saw on your tv that wasn’t scoring stats came through my headset at some point over the course of the night. Those trucks that they produce the TV show from are pretty amazing. We walked in to a bunch of people yelling out certain codes and what not. I’ve never seen so many little 4″x4″ monitors in my life. It was real interesting to see how it all goes together and how much work is put in for the people to see at home. Today, we got the full truck tour and she explained that a lot of people at home just think the production is the matter of pushing a button but its actually a lot more than that. Guess how much one of the video mixing trucks cost? A lot. 8-10 million. For the record, ESPN doesn’t actually own any of them, they are all owned by private companies who lease them or rent them out to ESPN, CBS, FOX, etc. Throughout the two games I talked through the headset to two guys in the truck who were making the graphics that you see on TV. Mainly the drop down’s from the ESPN scoreboard with certain stats that the commentators are commenting on. In the world of sports TV you say the visiting team stat first, so hits would’ve been 11-8 so you don’t have to say the two teams names. You do plenty of talking throughout the course of a double header. I enjoyed listening to the truck and the stories they we’re telling throughout the course of the game. Definitely a once-in-a-lifetime type experience and I would like to thank Michigan Tech Athletics, Ian Marks especially for letting me do the ESPN job, and for allowing me to help out.
The first semi-final game featured the Bulldogs of Ferris State University and the Pioneers from Denver. The first period was timid for both teams as they skated to a one-one tie into the first intermission. Ferris scored the next two goals tot take the worst lead in hockey but held Denver to one third period goal to move on to tonight’s regional final game. After the first game we had a break to grab some food in the hospitality room and listen to the press conferences of each team.
The second game was much more interesting right from the start. Before warm-ups even started, Cornell’s Big Red mascot fell as he took his first steps onto the ice. 30 second’s later we realized that they must not have ice skating classes like we do at MTU. Video Credit: Tyler Nault, the Negaunee Legend.
Also before the teams even made their way onto the ice the Michigan Band had played their fight song 3 times so we decided it was the right thing to do to keep a tally of how many times they played it for the rest of the night. Unlike the Michigan Tech Pep Band they knew when to play it to get the crowd into the game. By the end of the game they had played “The Victors” 18 times, no complains though as it’s not a bad fight song. Cornell’s band got tired of hearing Michigan’s fight song so they decided they should play the Michigan State Fight Song as a joke. The crowd liked that. Michigan came out of the gates hot with 2 goals in the first 93 seconds. Cornell coach Mike Schafer called timeout to tame the wolverines but got lucky as the refs reviewed Michigan’s second goal and called it off for goalie interference. Cornell tied it up later in the period to go to the first intermission 1-1. Cornell got a tally on the board in the second to lead 2-1 into the 2nd break. Michigan came out of the break hot once again but not with putting the puck in the net. They out-skated the Big Red and eventually tied it up with 4 minutes to go after many great chances. They resurfaced the ice again with the double zamboni and we headed to OT. Michigan dominated in the extra frame with the first 3 shots and 4 face-off wins. It’s not all about who looks the best but who buries the puck in the back of the net. After Michigan went down on a 3 on 2, Cornell returned the favor on their own odd man rush, Shawn Hunwick, a Hobey Baker finalist, made a beautiful kick save on the first shot of the rush but couldn’t keep Roger Kraig’s shot from crossing the line. Cornell piled on Kraig in celebration of the goal to send them to the NCAA Regional Final.
Red Berenson and his club were disappointed at the post game press conference but all players said that they enjoyed their time at Michigan and would do it all over again. Cornell coach opened the post game conference by giving Michigan credit for playing a hard fought game and that they were very classy at a very tough time. He also commented on how classy it was that after Rodger Kraig scored the OT winner, Shawn Hunwick got the puck out of the back of the net and gave it to Rodger Kraig to congratulate him and say “you beat me, you deserve this.” Very classy on Michigan’s part. One cool thing I saw about everyone at the press conference is that they we’re all on their smart phones and constantly updating their twitter with quotes from the coaches and student athletes. Michigan is often viewed as a university that kind of sees themselves elite to everyone else like the cowboys or yankees of professional sports and I thought that Hunwick’s poise was very professional in such a a rough time. Sometimes it makes you sick to see how many extra staff big universities like Michigan bring to a game because they have the funds and they feel it is necessary. One guy was saying that Michigan had brought 12 non-players and coaches for the Regionals which is quite extravagant when you only really need a trainer, equipment manager, and hockey ops guy.
After we finally got out of the rink at about 1230 we headed to Old Chicago, one of the only places that was serving food till 1 and enjoyed some delicious chicago-style pizza while the couple behind our booth was enjoying each others faces. They definitely needed to get a room. Had to get a snapshot because it was so awkward and funny.
Day 2 was similar, headed to the rink at 515 for a 804 game time. Lots of downtime and sitting around so I wandered the Resch Center and got a cool 360 picture from center ice. It can be found here: http://360.io/Tz2NSg The first period was very uneventful as both teams seemed tense and nervous. Cornell had a lot of time on the PK, but it was a scoreless period. The second was kind of the opposite as it was Ferris’ time in the sin bin and Cornell’s opportunity to score but they couldn’t bury either. Ferris scored 11 seconds into the third period to get the first tally on the board. Ferris got lucky as Cornell’s center broke his stick on the draw and headed to the bench for a replacement as they went down to score. Cornell answered less than 2 minutes later on a nice odd man rush up the ice. Ferris then went to the box for a 5 minute major as TJ Schlueter was given a game misconduct for hitting from behind. Cornell couldn’t get the equalizer on the five minute man advantage, Ferris got a good bounce on the breakout and had a two on one as the guy came out of the box and Jordie Johnston buried on the back door. Ferris advances to the Frozen Four for the first time in program history. The bulldogs were loading up the bus as I left the tunnel and the guys were commenting on how there phones wouldn’t stop vibrating. Ferris is a smaller hockey school and that’s the cool thing about college hockey. Ferris state coach Bob Daniels commented in the post game press conference “College hockey is a place for small schools, College hockey has always thrived with the small schools with the idea that it’s such a team sport. You can have your star athletes, but if you have a roster full of really good players and good kids, all schools can be successful. You don’t have to be a mega school to win.”
We hit the road for home soon after the press conferences and only had one delay on the trip. Thankfully the officer went to Michigan Tech and we avoided an on the spot Wisconsin speeding ticket. I had a great time at the NCAA Regional and would do it again in a heartbeat, thanks to everyone who made it possible.
Thanks to Nate, Davin, Tyler, Tom, David, Molly, Katie, Rosanna, Wes, Molly, Ian, and Suzanne for a great weekend.