It’s March, and with the new month comes the ACHA National Championships, the most exciting time of year for any Icers fan. As the drive to the Murdoch Cup gets underway each season, my thoughts always go back to my best friend, Tim Hanselman, the man with whom I attended every championship tournament in the eastern time zone from 1999 through 2004, witnessing two of the Icers' four national championships during that era in the process.
It was thanks to Tim that I got my true indoctrination into the Penn State hockey cult: the 1999 ACHA National Tournament, coincidentally held in Newark, DE, the site of this year's tournament. While I had attended plenty of games already at that point, there’s nothing quite like living and breathing the experience for the better part of a week in a place far (but not that far) from home and with everything on the line.
Some of the memories are still extremely fresh – the Don Coyne Cheez-It incident described in a previous post, for one. My cowbell being stolen by one of Michigan-Dearborn’s players (the douche factor in that program is exceeded only by their current irrelevance), for another. And of course how, in the Pool A game that determined one championship game participant, Iowa State scored the winning goal against Ohio with about a minute to go on a play that was blatantly offside. The Cyclones went on to defeat the Icers 6-4 in the championship game, then vacated their title when it was discovered that star forward Darcy Anderson had played professionally prior to his ACHA stint. Thanks to HockeyDB.com for cracking that case (the slogan on the program cover to the left was a stroke of genius from then-HMA member and current Icers SID Rodney Martin).
Sometime around 6:00 on the evening of January 22, 2005, Tim texted me: “icers win 5-4.” The text itself wasn’t at all out of the ordinary – in fact, Tim had been sending me score updates of the unexpectedly close game against Towson to all afternoon long. The only thing that made this text unusual is that it would become his last-ever communication with me. Just over 12 hours later, he was dead, having been stuck by a car on I-80 after he had pulled over to assist an overturned vehicle. I'll never forget how we received the news that night - after returning home from Dairy Queen, where we discussed getting Tim a Pittsburgh Penguins jersey with "Scally 41" on the back for his upcoming birthday.
At his memorial service, here's how I began his eulogy:
You can't see Tim in here, but I just want everyone to know that he's not wearing a suit. He's wearing a Penn State hockey jersey and shorts. All too often, when we deliver our beloved to their final resting place, we give them their best suit without really considering whether that's what they would want to be wearing, whether we're doing a good job of representing what that person's all about. I don't need to tell any of you that Tim is dressed appropriately.Just over a month and a half later, I stared intently at Tim’s old computer screen at some crude version of an ESPN.com-style Gametracker that the ACHA’s internet people had thrown together and listening to a webcast of Illinois defeating the Icers 4-3 in the championship game. It wasn’t right. If Tim’s last nationals memory was my instant message telling him the game was over and we had lost, surely the first nationals after his death would end with Penn State reclaiming the Murdoch Cup.
For what it’s worth, the Icers have not won the last game of the season since Tim’s death. I don’t necessarily believe some cosmic force is at play. In fact, it’s probably as simple as the ACHA’s being exponentially deeper than 10 years ago, including the rise of programs like Lindenwood, which are operated more or less as varsity programs playing club hockey. And it’s not like the succeeding years haven’t been tremendously fruitful at Penn State – three ACHA championship game appearances, ESCHL regular season and playoff titles in the first three years of the conference, ACHA quarterfinals every single year, tremendous players and teams throughout. But for me, one more national championship before the ACHA chapter of Penn State hockey ends would finally bring things full circle.
Tim, for his part, is exactly where he’s been for the last six years: at a small cemetery on W. Sassafras St. in Selinsgrove, PA. True to my eulogy, he was cremated in a Mark Scally jersey and shorts with “Penn State Hockey” embroidered on the leg (the rest of his massive jersey collection was donated to the booster club), and his ashes are buried under a marker depicting a pair of crossed goalie sticks beneath “P.S.U.” On a recent visit, I shared the exciting news of Penn State’s starting an NCAA program. But the smile on my face quickly vanished when I realized the conversation couldn’t go any further.
|Mark Scally: Class. Click for a readable size.|
|The 2004-2005 Icers passed along their condolences...|
|...as did PennStateHockey.com on behalf of the entire Icers family.|