In the early hours of March 7, Shane Walsh scored for UMASS to end the longest hockey game in NCAA history, but this wasn’t the first time UMASS beat Notre Dame to win a big game for the school. In fact, I was at the first game the Minutemen downed the Fighting Irish in overtime,
In the early hours of March 7, Shane Walsh scored for UMASS to end the longest hockey game in NCAA history, but this wasn’t the first time UMASS beat Notre Dame to win a big game for the school. In fact, I was at the first game the Minutemen downed the Fighting Irish in overtime, but it was in Amherst, Mass. on New Year’s Eve 1994.
Turn back the clock to December 31, 1994. I was a junior in high school and was starting to look at colleges, one of which was my dad’s alma mater, the University of Massachusetts. As part of the visit, we planned to go up with the school had a hockey game. The school had just added hockey back to their sports department and they were playing in the shiny new Mullins Center. As part of the visit, we stopped at the campus store, snuck into the Curry Hicks Cage, which was where UMASS basketball played their home games, and went to a couple of other places while my dad told me stories about his time there.
We’d purchased tickets to see UMASS hockey play, a team that was 0-13-1 as a Division-I team. They’d just lost to Notre Dame the night before and this was to be my first college hockey game. At some point during the second period, a freak thing happened. Play along the near side boards–we sat on the side of the rink with the benches and were near the blue line–the puck gets flipped out of the Notre Dame zone to our right and it bounced off a seat, hit a young lady in the head and then into my hand which was above my dad’s head. I remember the puck coming over the boards and the ricochet, but I don’t remember moving my hand to make the catch.
The lady behind us exclaimed, “Wow, nice catch!”
During the stoppage in play, I realized the young lady two rows in front of us had been hit as she was holding her head. My dad mentioned something as I began to lean forward to hand her the puck. It was the first puck I caught off the ice and was a cool puck with the UMASS logo on one side and the Hockey East logo on the other. As I gave her the puck, the fans applauded and I caught the players on the UMASS bench tapping their sticks. A couple of people even patted me on the shoulder.
On the ensuing faceoff, UMASS scored and started a comeback that wound up tying the game. Then, 48 seconds into overtime, Warren Norris took a pass from Rob Bonneau and put it past the Notre Dame goalie for the first win in current program history as a Division-I school. Kind of an interesting connection to a record-setting game.
After the game, I made my way down to the locker room area, talking my way down there. Not the first, nor the last time I would wind up talking my way into a fun situation.
While down there, head coach Joe Mallen was diagramming the winning play to a reporter when he looked up and said to me, “Do you think this would work?”
“Yes, I saw it did.” I replied and he went back to the celebration which rivaled that of what happened in Times Square later that evening.
I also got to talking to someone from the UMASS staff who recognized a hat I was wearing and we struck up a conversation. I’d mentioned that I was hoping to get a game puck if possible. About five minutes later, he handed me one and thanked me for coming. It was a great day, and a fun time at UMASS. I didn’t wind up going there, but it was an experience I won’t forget.
When going back to take a look at where some of those players that played that day ended up, well here’s a few from HockeyDB.com.
Rob Bonneau, assisted on the game-winning goal, wound up getting signed by the Washington Capitals after graduation. He split two seasons with Portland and one with Hampton Roads. A season in which he played against the Chesapeake Ice Breakers who I saw play numerous times against Hampton Roads that year. Bonneau would go on to play for his hometown Springfield Falcons, and eventually the Fresno Falcons.
Brian Corcoran would go on to play three seasons in the AHL, two with the Baltimore Bandits–the last pro hockey team to play a full season in Baltimore Arena–and one with the Hershey Bears. I’ve announced games in both teams home arenas.
Warren Norris, who scored the game winner, went on to a professional career which took him all over the world, the latter eight in Austria. His professional career ended in 2011.
Brad Norton, who was a freshman defenseman on the team, and had six assists his first year, had been a ninth round draft pick of the Edmonton Oilers prior to starting school. He played parts of five seasons in the NHL, including one season with the Washington Capitals, who I now work with on a regular basis. He had one assist in 16 games with the Caps during the 03-04 season. He played 124 NHL games with three goals, eight assists, 11 points and 287 PIM.
Tom O’Connor, a fourth-round pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins prior to going to UMASS, played three professional seasons, reaching the AHL.
Jaynen Rissling, had a three-year professional career, after which he would make appearances playing for the Washington Capitals alumni, including games I announced. He is related to former Washington Capitals player Gary Rissling.