BOSTON — You hardly see a National Hockey League player cry after a crushing loss. Last night, after a 4-3 loss to Providence in the national championship game, there wasn’t a dry eye in the Boston University dressing room.
That’s because in college hockey, at places like Boston University and everywhere else, you’re playing for something bigger than you, and you know it.
Players like Cason Hohmann, Evan Rodrigues and Anthony Moccia might play hockey beyond this season, but it will never be the same. Never.
For them, hockey is now a business. The game they’ve known since they were kids, the one where they are part of a team and play with a bunch of guys they’ll call their “brothers,” that game doesn’t exist anymore. They played their last game of that sport Saturday night at TD Garden. And they lost. That sucks. And that’s why there are tears. Lots of them.
The reason NHL players don’t often cry after crushing losses isn’t because they’re “more manly” … it’s just that hockey is their jobs. Sure there’s pain after a big loss. Losing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals probably sucks, too. But there aren’t usually many tears. Just some checks to cash.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. Earning a living playing a kid’s game is something we all dream of doing, really. It’s just that the game goes from being a passion to an occupation, and those are two very different things.
That’s what is so special about college hockey. That’s what a lot of us love about college hockey. Players aren’t drafted or told where to go, they pick their team. They pick the history they want to be a part of.
Last night, as the door flung open and media shuffled into the Boston University locker room for postgame interviews, most of the players’ eyes were welled up. A good portion still had tears rolling down their faces.
Just down the hall, a mere 25-30 feet away, Providence players could be heard celebrating their first national championship.
The range of emotions weren’t unexpected, but still startling.
In the spectrum of life, losing a hockey game is far from a tragedy. I realize that. And the Terriers realize that too, but for probably the last time, to use the cliche, the name on the front of the jersey was more important than the one on the back.
Matt O’Connor sat in his stall and answered a barrage of questions from media members about his gaffe in the third period. Sometimes his voice cracked, and the emotion on his face was indescribable. He wasn’t using sentences, most of his answers were just words. He was stunned.
He’s not a pro — not yet — but he sat there and faced his blunder head on. He’s not getting paid $5 million per season, he’s a 23-year-old kid from Toronto. He had absolutely no “obligation” to do what he did, yet there he sat. That tells you a lot about the type of person he is. Most kids his age would run and hide, and I wouldn’t blame them. Hell, most adults would have run and hid. He took it. You can’t help but have an enormous amount of respect for that, and him for doing it.
My guess is he felt he had a responsibility to a his teammates and to BU. That’s why he answered all the questions. That’s maturity far beyond his years, and for the people around O’Connor, his family, teammates and coaches, it’s a helluva thing to be proud of him for.
I’m not sure I’ve ever been more impressed with a player, at any level, than I was Saturday night, watching O’Connor do what he did. That’s a leader. That’s someone who BU fans should be proud of. That’s someone who cares far more about the “Boston” written across his chest than the “O’Connor” that’s stitched across his shoulders.
When O’Connor plays hockey professionally, and he will, it will be “part of his job” to talk to the media. Because then, hockey will become his job. Saturday night, he felt an obligation to his teammates, who were staunchly defending him.
He made a mistake. He dropped a puck.
“These guys deserve a national championship,” he said.
And there are 26 other players who wear “Boston” across their chests that would say the same about the goalie they call “OC.”
That’s why we love college hockey.
Matt O’Connor’s legacy won’t be dropping a puck at TD Garden. It will be the leadership he displayed about 30 minutes later.