Its game day in Cincinnati.
From section 121, row L, seat six in an empty US Bank Arena, the gameday preparation is underway.
Snow machines are buzzing loudly. Spray tanks are being used to maintenance the NCAA logo’s behind the net. The Zamboni hums along, lightly coating the tarnished ice.
The NCAA Men’s Division I Hockey Tournament is underway, and Cincinnati, the site of the Midwest Regionals, will host the Midwest Regional Championship tonight between the Ferris State Bulldogs and the North Dakota Fighting Sioux, who defeated Wisconsin 5-2 on March 28.
Last night (March 28), Ferris took down Colgate in a gritty 1-0 confrontation, which was their fourth contest this year.
It wasn’t a pretty game, but in it’s own way, there was a buzzing coming from the Ferris bench. A buzzing that I’ve witnessed before in hockey.
At the end of a long third period shift, Ferris junior forward Justin Buzzeo was struggling to clear the puck out of the zone.
So he dove.
He dove and got his stick on it, knocking it past the blue-line.
There was a look of sheer desperation on his face as he leapt with his remaining strength at the puck, knowing that each game could be their last this year, and each puck cleared out of the zone could be the difference between life and death in the NCAA Tournament.
Sophomore forward Kenny Babinski was faced with a slapshot that would have had a clear path at the net. Babinski stood tall and took it off the top of his foot, where there is no padding.
Babinski dropped in severe pain, before hobbling off with help. As one Ferris player said the night before, you sacrifice every limb at this point in the season.
Though it wasn’t a dominating performance on the scoreboard over a number three seed in the tournament and the nation’s No. 12 ranked team, there was a certain level of desperation. Uncommon players dropping to block pucks, and keep shots away from junior goaltender CJ Motte.
Colgate on the stat sheet attempted 68 shots. 35 of which got through the Ferris defense on net. When they did, Motte was there.
About 1:30 into the first, Colgate’s Tylor Spink was left wide open about eight feet in front of Motte with time to launch a missile.
Motte came out and challenged, cutting down the angle that Spink could take. Spink fired, and Motte, with literally zero time to react, read the shot and caught it, standing up with confidence to raucous cheers from the Ferris faithful.
Ferris freshmen forward Gerald Mayhew scored his fourth goal in the last three playoff games, which was also his second game-winning goal of the playoffs. He’s scored game winners in two of the last three games.
The buzzing grew louder as the game went on. As the stakes got higher, the Ferris defense strangled the Colgate offense harder.
As crunch time approached, Ferris became more composed. With 57.9 seconds to play, Colgate took a penalty, that effectively ended their season.
The buzzing grew louder, but in a different way. Ferris players promptly exited the ice, their faces stony, their demeanors quiet.
Their focus snapped immediately to mental preparation for the next game. There was no outward celebration. It was more of a thankfulness that they had at least one more day to fight on.
My experience with the buzzing comes from those teams that do the work in the playoffs. They don’t always succeed, but theres always magic with the teams that buzz.
The Zamboni left the ice, the spray tanks and snow machines have been stowed away, but the buzzing remains in the silent and empty stadium.