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MacAdam: Games on hold; world moves on

MacAdam: Games on hold; world moves on

Reflecting on a bizarre whirlwind of a week when all the games were shut down
MacAdam: Games on hold; world moves on
Siena women's lacrosse head coach Abby Rehfuss talks about the cancellation of her team's spring season on Friday.
Photographer: Erica Miller

SCHENECTADY -- The Union College men's hockey team played a game Friday night.

Because that's my beat, I was there at Messa Rink, notebook in hand, tracking the action on the ice as well as on the scoreboard, a 1-1 tie. But it ... wasn't Messa, it was the old fieldhouse next door, bright sunlight filtering in through windows it doesn't have.

Whatever. The Dutchmen seemed to score in overtime, but the game continued, the red lights on the scoreboard clicking in increments of two, up to 6-4.

I couldn't keep up, I didn't know who won, all I had was blue pen scribbling on the notebook, but I dutifully hung around looking for head coach Rick Bennett afterward, to no avail, deadline panic setting in.

Having reassured myself, "Hey, remember, it's an afternoon game," next thing I know I'm walking downtown, diving onto my stomach to slide down the freshly rain-soaked Liberty Street hill toward the stoplight at Lafayette. Still sunny out.

By now, you're waiting for me to wake up, and this is that point.

It comes with some comfort that I was able to open my eyes Saturday morning and still think, "Well, that was weird," and only be referring to an actual dream.

The surreality of this past week in sports put everyone in a walking dream state.

As difficult as it was to stay ahead of the unending rockslide of cancellations and related news, when the dust finally settled (OK, it still hasn't settled), all that was left was the stark reality that, in one short week, the world is now a different place than most of us had ever seen it. For how long, nobody knows.

It got to the point on Tumultuous Thursday when I didn't even bother retweeting news that the NHL had suspended play, having forfeited a game of social media Whac-a-Mole in which the moles were winning, and big.

That same day, when RPI men's hockey coach Dave Smith mentioned in casual conversation, following a press conference, how the FBI had arrested two prominent Thoroughbred trainers on Manic Monday, I said, "Any other day, that would've been stripped across the top of B1, big headline ..."

(In the back of my mind on What-The-Hell Wednesday, the overwhelmed phone receptionist in "Ghostbusters" was picking up and spitting, "Ghostbusters. Whattaya want?")

It's incredible to look back at stories from a few days ago that, in isolation during a slow news week, would've been blockbusters.

But -- two, three days ago -- that was then; this is now.

COVID-19 commands the attention of everyone on the planet, and sports will just have to wait.

Looking back, as badly as you have to feel for the high school and college athletes in spring sports, they didn't get the rug ripped from under them with the same harshness as it was for the individuals and teams still alive in the winter postseason.

In particular, 2020 will forever carry what-might-have-been sentiment for the Siena men's basketball and RPI men's hockey teams, almost like that phantom feeling that an amputated limb is still there.

Siena had all the elements of a great story in place: Star point guard Jalen Pickett sticks around instead of exploring the NBA draft; first-year coach Carmen Maciariello, a Shenendehowa and Siena grad, gets the team on a roll; a return to the NCAA Tournament and the glory days of the Fran McCaffery era is imminent ... it had everything.

"This is a real-world situation," Maciariello said on Friday. "People are dying, and you have to be mindful of that."

In Smith's third season, RPI's moribund program showed progress early, then surged at the end, winning 10 of its last 13 conference games to clinch a bye and home ice for the ECAC Hockey playoffs. One of the best goalies in the country, Owen Savory, gave them a chance against anybody.

"Man, we were on a roll," Smith said. "All is possible.

"But right now, nothing is possible. So I'm not playing the what-if game. I'm playing the game of, 'Man, I hope this whole virus in our world right now, that we can get our hands around it and stop it.'"

Looking forward, someone in my profession can't help a twinge of existential uncertainty.

I keep cracking up thinking about the scene toward the end of "This is Spinal Tap" when the band has sadly broken up as a touring entity, but suddenly realizes that that frees them up for "the projects we didn't have time for because of Tap."

Like their unfinished rock musical based on the life of Jack the Ripper titled "Saucy Jack."

I had the day off for Manic Monday last week and ran into some Union hockey players getting lunch at a restaurant, a Wizard of Oz moment where they were all sitting at a table in street clothes a day after what will be the last live game I cover for perhaps a long time.

The afternoon before, they had all been in uniform and skates for an ECACH series-deciding game in the belly of the Whale, Yale University's Ingalls Rink. 

The game must have seemed a little surreal to these underdogs, since they broke a 1-1 tie in double overtime, only to have the goal waved off. Yale reversed everyone's fortunes only a couple minutes later by scoring the game-winner that stood.

The fortunes of everyone on the planet have been reversed by COVID-19. The empty supermarket shelf is the meme du jour.

I wasn't sure what to write today; it came to me in a dream. (Note to self: don't get in a habit of relying on that.)

A common misconception about our job is, "You're so lucky, you get paid to go to games," but how's that working out these days?

I've always countered, anyway, that the best part is you get paid to tell stories.

We'll never run out of those.

Reach Mike MacAdam at 518-395-3146 or [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @Mike_MacAdam.

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