I cannot necessarily claim credit for creating the term Hockey Christmas. I sincerely believe it may have been Geoff's creation. I will, however, state that my affinity for that term as shorthand for NCAA Hockey Regionals has led me, time and again, to use the term. In retrospect, it is a term better served to describe the anticipation of the weekend than the actual weekend itself.
Except, perhaps not. Christmas, after all, is often eagerly anticipated, especially in one's younger days. But as you get older, it becomes more difficult, more people want a piece of your time. You're dealing with disappointment, resentment, old lingering wounds in the family that never quite heal, but need to be spoken to (or not). People love the holiday season; it's the details that get them, every year. Some years are better than others, but many times you just end up being happy the whole thing is over.
So maybe it is less "Hockey Christmas" and more "Hockey Near Death Experience" as suggested by Brian Cook. Having lived the experience, we know all too well that the Plinko board of single-elimination playoff hockey is simultaneously thrilling and miserable. But I cannot help but think the universe is trying to send Michigan Hockey a message.
2010: Fort Wayne. Loss, 3-2 Double Overtime after a disallowed Michigan goal.
2011: Saint Paul. Loss, 3-2 Overtime after a disallowed Michigan goal.
2012: Green Bay. Loss, 3-2 Overtime after a disallowed Michigan goal.
This is not to say that the disallowed goal was the reason Michigan lost. I think the special teams nightmare in the second period is a pretty concrete reason to point to as to why Michigan lost. But I cannot help but think that the game turned on its heels after the disallowed goal (I can't be sure, like much of SE Michigan, we couldn't see the first fifteen game time minutes of the contest due to an ESPNU switching issue. Shocking. (I know, I shouldn't complain, we should be happy we can see the games at all, but seriously...) So I had to rely on my ESPN3 stream, which took some time to get going.) Cornell buckled down because they had seen their near death and made some life changes. Michigan didn't play like a team that was upset that they had had a goal disallowed, but they also didn't seem sharp. When Kevin Lynch scored late in the third to tie it up, it was like there was some cosmic justice, that the narrative was demanding "Puck don't lie." But as we learn in sports, narratives are not things to be followed, but meaning to be extracted later. So when the juicy rebound off Hunwick found its way on to Rodger Craig's stick and then, second later, into the back of the Michigan net, the narrative was not about how Michigan overcame disappointment and a scare, but how Shawn Hunwick's last act in a Michigan uniform was to retrieve the puck from the back of the net and give it to the Cornell coaching staff. That is how this story ends, that is how the stories of the last three seasons have ended; with Hunwick digging a third goal out of the back of his net in overtime in an arena somewhere in the Big Ten footprint, but a million miles away from what college hockey should feel like.
Maybe we're stupid. Maybe we're just a bunch of Charlie Browns, convinced that the NCAA Tournament's Lucy will not pull the football away this time, because this time it will be different. Tampa will see two #1 seeds and two #2 seeds, all regular season champions of the four major NCAA hockey conferences, perhaps a nice way of reminding us what is going to be lost when the Great Schism occurs at the end of next season. All teams dressed in red or a shade thereof, celebrating because their Christmas party hasn't ended yet. We're left to lament, left to lament this players whom we shall miss, left to lament that the common bond we share with so many strangers goes into hibernation for seven months, left to lament that the pride one holds in history is not the same as the joy of a successful present.
But we shall return to this place because it holds something for us. It holds a belief in what can be if everything breaks correctly. It holds the promise of being in on a secret that not enough know about, but those who do know share the bond with you. When we come back to Yost next fall, it will not be the Yost we have known, but a new Yost designed to remind us of the old one, blending the future with the past. We shall stare down our last CCHA season, wonder who will step in to the void and will there be enough to make sure its 23 in a row, but hopefully one with a happier ending.
Next year in Pittsburgh.