As afternoon gave way to evening Thursday, anticipation turned into concern, then elation, dejection, worry, euphoria and back to anticipation again for Union hockey fans watching a tortuous back-and-forth NCAA national semifinal game.
In the end, it was ecstasy.
Union defeated Boston College 5-4 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia to advance to Saturday’s national championship game, a first for the school playing Division I men’s hockey for only 23 years.
In bars and homes — and a Messa Rink as loud as it’s been for any game this season — Dutchmen fans stayed glued to every bounce of the puck, as Union overcame a 1-0 deficit to build a 4-2 lead, only to see it threatened in the final two minutes.
In Nico’s Tavern downtown, the ESPN 104.5 FM afternoon team broadcasts from the corner of the bar. With a half hour until the 5:05 p.m. drop of the puck, only a few patrons have come in. Manager Janet Van Auken still expects a good crowd: The two draws she can count on, she says, are “football season and Union hockey.”
Around the corner at Katie O’Byrne's, a steady stream of customers arrive after the start of the game. When the Eagles take a 1-0 lead on the Dutchmen, patrons groan.
“Better than normal,” owner John Keller says of the turnout. “I’ll take it.” The crowd would swell by the second period.
Elation, then worry
Has it been loud at The Van Dyck, the manager in the Union shirt is asked during the first intermission with the Dutchmen trailing.
More Union hockey
“It will be when they score,” Mike McDonald says. “We need a goal.”
The Van Dyck is a mix of young patrons and older, old and this-might-be-my-last-Frozen-Four customers. All erupt when Mat Bodie ties the game. One of his game-worn jerseys, to be raffled off within the hour, hangs over the bar. “Let’s Go U” echoes from one end of The Van Dyck to the other.
“Here we go. Here we go,” says Tom Maslanka of Scotia, a large presence in his Union Dillon Pieri jersey, as he inches closer to one of the TVs. “C’mon, boys.”
“If they score another one,” he said, “this place is coming down.”
But Boston College ties the game at 2, setting up a climactic third period.
A few puddles remain on the concrete that served as the base of the Messa Rink ice. A 23-foot, 7-inch-diagnonal TV dominates what was the red line circle. There is no game here today, but there is one on, and one side of the stands is filled nearly to capacity.
The familiar “Let’s Go Union” chant fills the arena, augmented by the complimentary inflatable thunder sticks given out. Messa explodes when Union takes a 3-2 lead on a Daniel Ciampini goal, then quiets as Boston College is awarded a 5-minute power play on a major penalty to Matt Hatch, who is ejected.
Freshman Tommy Wilson runs his hands through his close-cropped hair, then cups them in front of his mouth. The 19-year-old freshman is a Boston Bruins fan and Massachusetts native, Acton, but there is no question of his allegiance. “This is my school now,” he says.
His feet bounce in nervousness, as fast as a drummer keeping time on his bass, until the power play is killed. He jumps into his buddies a row back, and Messa turns into a mosh pit of students, as Union takes a 4-2 lead on a Mike Vecchione goal. Even a television crew seems swept up, pumping their fists.
But the celebration turns into one last burst of collective angst as Boston College cuts the lead to one with 1:45 to play. Wilson cracks his knuckles and rubs his hands, but Ciampini scores his third goal of the game 35 seconds later into an empty net.
A BC goal with 4.2 seconds left just delays the inevitable. At the final horn confetti shoots out of cannons, thundersticks thunder and Messa Rink lets out a final roar.
“My heart is in my throat,” Paul DeBiase, manager of the Union bookstore, says afterward as he stores Frozen Four merchandise that was for sale.
He will be back Saturday night. So will Union hockey, and its fans.