Untouched by Greatness
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
ST. PAUL, Minn. They won the WCHA regular-season championship, and refused to touch the MacNaughton Cup.
They won the WCHA postseason championship, and refused to touch the Broadmoor Trophy.
They all refused to touch any trophy until it was the national championship trophy. It never occurred to them there would not be a trophy to touch.
"There was heavy belief on the bench that we were going to get one, and all of a sudden the buzzer's going off and we didn't," said North Dakota assistant coach Cary Eades following the Sioux's stunning 2-0 loss to Michigan in Thursday's national semifinal.
"We just couldn't buy one," North Dakota senior Derrick LaPoint said. "It's definitely a tough way to end your career. ... We've had some success, and to come in here, we truly thought we were going to win this game, and losing it, I can't put into words — it's over, and I didn't accomplish what I wanted to do, and we didn't accomplish what we wanted to do as a team."
North Dakota had so many great regular seasons in the past decade, only to have so many Frozen Four failures. But this year was supposed to be different.
"We had a special team this year, I think," said North Dakota junior forward Jason Gregoire. "That's not taking one thing away from last year's teams, but this year we had something different. I don't know what it was, but the mentality this team had all year through, putting individual awards behind you, putting league championships behind you — all the focus on one goal.
"It was an incredible run to be a part of, and we all envisioned ending the season on a win — and that's why it's so tough."
Eades has seen a lot over the years, starting with his time playing for the Sioux in the early '80s. Despite that, or perhaps because of that, he was just as emotional as anyone after the loss.
"For this group, from our defeat last year against Yale to all the work they did in the summer — but the one-game shots are a cruel thing," Eades said. "I like our chances against anybody best-of-5 or 4-out-of-7, but that's not the way college hockey is. ... There's a lot of parity, there's a lot of great coaches, and a lot of great individual performances. My old mentor Gino Gasparini said, 'It doesn't matter how well you play, if you can't beat the goaltender, you just can't control it.' ... It's tough to say (it's a great year). We accomplished a lot of things, but greatness at North Dakota is measured in national championships."
And that is a hole still left unfilled, since 2000.
When it was over, they could do nothing but sit there, many in tears, unwilling, or unable, to take off the uniform for the last time.
"I've never seen a group of guys, a team, that's more family-like," Gregoire said. "There's so much pride putting this jersey on that no one wants to take it off after a loss. ... I can't imagine wanting to take it off for the last time. I take so much pride and honor being able to put this jersey on, I don't want to take it off."
The pain hits deep, perhaps even moreso for this program with a coaching staff completely comprised of North Dakota hockey alumni.
"It's personal for everybody," Eades said. "We've had the privilege of wearing the jersey and hopefully that means something and gets passed on to our players. We have a lot of pride in the program. Everyone in the locker room, it's a personal deal. We live our lives for it.
"Loyalty runs real deep in the Sioux family. The whole Sioux family is feeling a liot of pain right now. But we have a lot of pride, and we'll have to regroup off of this. And learn from the negatives, and build off the positives, like we do every season.
"The minute we leave this building, the coaching staff will be building towards getting back and getting another kick at the can next year."