Experience the National Tournament 2013

Hope College hockey qualified for the ACHA D-III National
Tournament this year, for the twelfth consecutive season.  This is no small feat—considering that
only sixteen teams in the entire country get the opportunity to play for the
grand prize. Not to mention that
each region of the country contributes four teams, limiting the competitive
North region from flooding the tournament.  

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My freshman year, we had the honor of hosting the tournament
in Holland. Having the support of
our hometown fans was a huge advantage. Unfortunately, we lost in the championship game to College of the
Canyons (CA). Last year, we
traveled to Atlantic City, New Jersey, only to lose in pool play. This year, Missouri State hosted the
tournament in lovely Springfield, MO. 

It just so happens that Nationals week always occurs the
week before Hope’s Spring break—which means that we hockey players get to miss
a week of classes AND get a head start on our Spring break. Home free! Or so one would think. But most Hope College professors aren’t so fast to grant a week off of
classes. Which results in
schoolwork on the eleven-hour bus ride and in the hotel all week. Some professors even required players
to Skype into class (cough
mine!). Tests and quizzes are
common during this “cram” week. Naturally, Coach Van Timmeren proctored these throughout the week, until
our number one fan, Dean Frost, graciously provided relief. 

And that’s the only con to playing in the National
Tournament!

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*Disclaimer* Hope College hockey is pampered. There is no other ACHA D-III team in
the country that gets the treatment we do.

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Hope provides us with a coach bus for the journey.  The thirty-three of us players, plus
Coach, fit on the bus, no problem. The majority of the seniors
get two seats to recline for the ride. The rest of us have to choose our seatmate wisely. Important factors to consider include:
snoring and drooling habits, shoulder width, and general social
compatibility. Naturally, fellow
Chicago native Joe Pappas and I remained faithful to our Atlantic City
partnership for the 2013 Springfield version.

Bus rides are limited as far as activities go. There’s always schoolwork. Pffft but seriously. Watching the mediocre movie Coach selects, sleeping in
unorthodox and uncomfortable positions, playing cards, or browsing social media
sites using the WIFI hotspot that we so wisely invested in for last season’s venture
are usually the most common ways to kill time.

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The Hotel

With a name like La
Quinta
, it’s hard not to expect great things.  For those of you who don’t speak Spanish, quinta translates to “fifth,” no doubt
an ode to our “five-star.” 

The team was split into threesomes based on line
pairings.  Therefore, the only
flexibility lay with the defensemen (who play in pairs) and the injured/reserve
players. Needless to say, I was
very pleased with my rooming situation: fellow juniors Jordan Rose and Kevin
Deane. Tragically, both have been permanently
sidelined due to repeated concussions, a growing epidemic in the hockey
world. Regardless of permanent
brain damage, both manage to keep a bright outlook as they help guide the team
as bench coaches.  Having Coach
directly across the hall allowed us to be in frequent conversation with
“Bossman.” I don’t think we could
have orchestrated it any better ourselves!

Among the perks of staying at La Quinta was the pool area. Now, before you deem me a child, allow me to explain. Growing up, away tournaments were always the highlights of the season. The kids frolic in the hotel until game time and the parents attempt to avoid them. Naturally, the hotel pool was the hangout for us rink rats. Nothing really changes.

Throughout the year, the team stays in other hotels—all of
which lack pools, or whose pool area is a glorified concrete dungeon.  La Quinta’s was naturally lit by floor
to ceiling windows, contained decorative plants, and had a Jacuzzi that consistently
stayed at 104°. As if that weren’t enough, the high
tech surveillance system and punch code keypad entrance kept us feeling safe at
all times in the pool! However, we
were a bit disheartened to learn that the pool area closed at 10:00 PM. Not that the punch code didn’t work
after 10:00…

Which reminds me. Coach Van Timmeren means business at the National Tournament. Therefore, he created a detailed
itinerary with the days’ proceedings that each player received via email. He sent out three updated versions
throughout the week.  Among the
drawbacks was mandatory breakfast attendance at 8:00 AM and 11:00 PM curfews. Curfews were enforced
with an iron fist, as Stal—er, Coach saw fit to enact “bed-checks” each night. All players (including us reserves) were
required to be under the covers, with the television and lights off by 11:00 PM.  Not an easy requirement for night owls
like myself.

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Back to La Quinta.  Perhaps the most impactful of all was
the twenty-four hour complementary Folgers blend coffee available in the
lobby. Were it not for this, it
pains me to imagine how little schoolwork I would have completed. It also proved to be a saving grace at
breakfast, helping me to overcome the lure of the unusually comfortable beds
back in room 112. Lastly, it saved
me a handful of bills, as I was able to fill my thermos with Folgers instead of
shelling out at the rink for lukewarm, weak joe.

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The Meals

To perform our best, us hockey players need calories,
preferably nutritious ones. Providing three meals a day to thirty-three hockey players and the coaching
staff amounts to quite a task. Therefore, a set of parents assume the responsibility of taking orders,
determining costs, catering the food, and in many cases, preparing the food. The Dolehanty family has served the
team for the last two seasons, and has done a tremendous job of keeping the
boys fed, and fed well.  While
other teams are eating at fast food joints to save money, we dine at fine local
establishments, handpicked by the Dolehanty’s.  We can’t thank you enough for all you’ve done, Mr. and Mrs.
Doly and Allison!

The Tourney

There’s magic in the air at Nationals every year that isn’t
rivaled by any mid-season matchup or league playoff game: particularly the
first day of games, when all sixteen teams are optimistic at their chances at
advancing. Since each pool
contains a team from each region, many teams have not encountered each other
previously. Many teams spend the
whole day at the rink, scouting teams in their pool and getting a feel for how
the tournament is going to proceed. It also gave us a chance to mingle with our favorite team in the ACHC,
the University of Alabama, who had previously embraced us at a tournament down
in Huntsville the year before. Legend
has it that after an Alabama victory, a Hope player exclaimed, “Roll Tide!”  To which a ‘Bama player responded with,
“Roll Dutch!”  Since then, we have
adopted “Roll Dutch!” as our own slogan, featuring it on various articles of
clothing, including our warm-up gear. To our surprise, an unidentified coach informed us that “rolling Dutch”
was a term for cannabis consumption. 
Oops.

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After a Monday afternoon skate, we took the ice Tuesday to
face Neumann University, who hail from Pennsylvania. The word was that they had a legitimate shot at winning it
all. As such, we came out of the
gate fast and never looked back, putting on a clinic in a 10-2 drubbing, receiving goals from eight different players. No need for a “Newman!” exclamation (for those of you who consider yourself Seinfeld fans).

Our next test was the following afternoon versus Northern
Arizona University, who had managed to recruit a German and a Canadian to their
roster. Despite their
international appeal, there was no doubt that they had seen the double-digit
tally we had put up the night before. Standing behind their coaching staff during our 20-minute warm-up, I observed
that they exchanged a grand total of two sentences, while staring wide-eyed at
our squad. Quite literally, they
were quaking in their loafers. The
6-0 score reflected the vibe before the game, as the Dutchmen rolled to another
victory, led by a hat trick by first team All-American and ACHC MVP Chris
Kunnen.

The tournament hosted a skills competition on Wednesday
night that showcased one player from each squad. Seeing as how we wanted to remain focused on what really
mattered, Coach elected to send Kevin, who had led Hope in goals his freshman
year, and Alex Caradonna, a freshman tendie
(goalie) looking to prove himself on the big stage. Seeing as how he was medically
ineligible to play, Kevin had not brought his gear. Therefore, he pieced together a set of equipment from fellow
teammates: grabbing shin guards from Jake Green, pants from Nick Cornicelli,
shoulder pads from Chris Kunnen, elbow pads from Drew O’Brien, and a helmet
from captain Court Fall. 

Predictably, Coach vetoed the team’s request to attend and
support Kevin and Donna. However,
Anthony Gasparotto, Jesse Gardner, and myself weren’t about to be denied as
injured reserves. Lacking a ride,
Mr. Cornicelli and his son Joe generously offered to drive us to the rink to
support our teammates. We arrived
at the rink to find the place packed. Every other team was there to support their star, or scrub, in some
instances. The obstacle course was
the first challenge. To our
surprise, Kevin was up first.  He
posted a dazzling time, weaving through the cones with the puck seemingly glued
to his wand (talented player’s stick).  His time held through the remaining
fifteen skaters and he received a high quality twig (stick) as a reward for his triumph.

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Kevin and Donna also each finished second in the shootout
competition, which was a five-puck spree with forty seconds on the clock.  Both qualified for the final showdown,
Kevin with three goals, and Donna by saving all five pucks! Donna amused the crowd with an arsenal
of showboating moves; including pad stacks, tucking his stick behind his back,
and jumping jacks. Kevin was
brilliant, scoring two silky
(smooth) backhand goals and going river
(between the goalie’s legs) for his final goal. The final brought
disappointment for both Hope players. Regardless, a terrific showing for Hope hockey at the skills
competition!

Thursday’s game against the University of Central Florida
was do or die for the Dutchmen. Win and advance. Lose and
go home.  Just minutes into the
game, Brandon Flood picked the puck up in the neutral zone, beat three players
with a burst of speed, and ripped a cheddar
bomb
(top left corner of the net, over the goalie’s blocker). The first ended 1-0. The second period brought UCF’s
wrath. The Florida natives were
head-hunting, targeting Kunnen with cheap shots to the head and late hits. But Kunnen and the Dutchmen kept their
cool and extended their lead on a brilliant flip from Cornicelli that bounced
to O’Brien, who beat the UCF tendie with a deft backhand move. Rounding out the scoring in the third
period was Green, who glanced to the middle of the ice, as if to pass to a
teammate, and instead fired a low wrist-shot just inside the left post. On to the semifinals!

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As mentioned previously, the North is typically the most
competitive region.  This year’s
tournament exemplified that, as all four pool winners were teams from the
North, specifically Michigan. We
were to see Adrian, the defending champions, on Friday morning. The short turnaround resulted in a handful
of sore players scurrying to and fro the ice machine to create an ice bath
before bed check. To our dismay, we
received disconcerting tidings that our captain Court Fall had aggravated a
previous shoulder injury and would not be dressing the next day.

The Flying Dutchmen came out just that. Dominating play, end to end. Our hard work paid off when freshman
Rob Calvert buried a rebound to give us the lead. Moments later, senior Justin Johnston was given a violent
shot to the head by an Adrian goon, rendering JJ incapable of getting to his
feet. Concerned, Doc Van Timmeren
and Coach hustled to his side to determine the extent of the injury. JJ was helped off the ice, still woozy
from what proved to be a serious concussion. Hope was left with a two-minute power play on which they
failed to capitalize. Shortly
after which Adrian capitalized on a breakaway to knot the score at 1-1.  Bad turned to the worse, when a
questionable call by the officials put Adrian on the power play. The first period
horn sounded and the teams headed to their respective locker rooms to await the
resurfacing.

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Just moments into the second period, Adrian capitalized on
the stale power play, taking the lead. Seizing the momentum, Adrian turned it up a notch and put another one
past LaDouce. Feeling the pressure
building, Hope slowly began to tilt the ice in their favor, reverting to the
puck possession style of play that had worked so well. Their persistence was rewarded with a
power play. Working the puck
around the perimeter eventually left an Adrian defender out of position, giving
Calvert an opportunity to walk the puck in and let loose a wrister. PING!  Off of the post and in! Hope was back,
and still hungry. The second
period ended 2-3 in Adrian’s favor.

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Before returning to the ice, senior Chris Kunnen took the
opportunity to address the team in an emotional speech that served to motivate
the team to a near-frenzy. While waiting
in the tunnel for the Zamboni to finish, Hope and Adrian players began chirping (talking trash) animatedly,
something that Hope does not regularly engage in, with the exception of Kyle “Daddy”
Wollet and Drew Cook. Both of whom
are exceptional. 

As expected, the Dutch played with an urgency that usually
only appears in the last few minutes of a game. The ice was tilting further and further in Hope’s favor, as
Adrian players began sucking wind from the relentless onslaught. Yet time kept ticking.  At the 2:40 mark, Coach Van Timmeren
called his timeout to refocus and give his top players a brief rest. Eventually establishing puck control,
Hope yanked LaDouce for an extra attacker and threw the puck towards Adrian’s
goal, resulting in a fierce battle to bury the puck. The referees blew the play dead with 48.8 seconds left, as
several Hope players raised their hands to celebrate an apparent goal. But it was not to be. According to the officials, only
two-thirds of the puck had crossed the goal line.  Undeterred, Hope pressed the attack but alas, could not bury
the puck before the final buzzer sounded.

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The boys skated through the handshake line and trudged into
the locker room. They had given it
their best effort, yet had come up one bounce short. There is absolutely no doubt in any of our minds that we
deserved to win that game. 

But that’s why we play the game. If they handed the trophy out at the beginning of the year,
we’d be lacking the journey. The
journey is what is what we share, and what binds us together as not just
teammates, but as a family.

-Steven Skawski #9