Thursday, March 30, 2017

Sports news sparks a memory

A few weeks back in this space, I wrote about the top five things I’ve had the pleasure of doing while in this job. Of course this included the Olympics and some laps around New Hampshire Motor Speedway in the pace car.
However, there have also been numerous things that I’ve had a chance to do that had nothing to do with this job and one of those things kind of came to the forefront of my thinking this past week.
Longtime UNH hockey coach Dick Umile announced last week that he would be retiring after next season and that Mike Souza would be taking over as the new head coach. As it turns out, both of those gentlemen had a role in one of the highlights of my post-college (but still hanging around college) life.
While I was not terribly surprised that coach Umile is deciding to call it a career, I am saddened that he never was able to bring home a national championship for the UNH hockey team, though I guess he does have one more chance left to do that. He’s been at it a long time and he has earned his retirement and I wish him nothing but the best.
However, the closest he’s come to that national championship came in 1999, early April as I recall, when the Wildcats were in the Frozen Four in the hockey hotbed of Anaheim, Calif. I was there and it was one of the top non-work sports moments of my life, right up until the final moment when it all came crashing down.
I graduated from college in 1998 having played four years with the UNH Marching Band as well as in the pep band at most of the hockey games during that time. We had traveled with the team to Hockey East and NCAA tournaments around the Northeast, but for the most part, Worcester was about as far as we’d go during those days. I played more than my fair share of games in the TD Garden and the Worcester Centrum over the four years I was in school.
The fall after I graduated, I was working in Concord but also had a part time job at UNH in the dining hall where I worked as a student. One night before school started, I stopped by the band field where the marching band was having band camp and a few hours later, after meeting the new director, I was signed up for a fifth year of marching band.
My schedule allowed it and I continued into the winter, doing pep band games on a regular basis and it became obvious that this was a special team. Led by Jason Krog and Darren Haydar, they were a force in Hockey East and around the country.
The new band director had gotten in good with the athletic department and was able to secure the band a trip to California to support the hockey team in the NCAA Frozen Four. Because this was in the early days of our good relationship with the athletic department, there were not a lot of seats. The director had to choose, based on instrumentation and attendance. Being as I played trumpet (one of the most needed instruments in any pep band) and had been to a lot of games, I was one of three trumpets chosen to make the trip. I talked to my bosses and got the time off for a quick trip to California, which was also my first time on an airplane.
We had a great time in Anaheim. We went to Disneyland and did some sightseeing, but we also had a couple hockey games to play at. UNH won the semifinal game and after a day off, we were back at The Pond for the finals against Maine. We even got the chance to play the National Anthem on the ice before the championship game (and made Sportscenter in doing so). It was future coach Mike Souza who scored the goal that sent the game to overtime, but I will pretend that it ended in an overtime tie, though the Maine fans out there will surely know the rest of the story.

Anyway, as a UNH graduate and supporter, I wish coach Umile nothing but the best and I’ll be cheering for coach Souza when his time comes, just as I was on that April day in 1999 from the upper deck in Anaheim.

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