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Ice Hockey That Warms The Heart

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Glassboro, New JerseyIt’s a nice tradition.  At the end of every game the two teams’ line up, and they shake hands while saying things like ‘good game’ or ‘nice job’.  It’s a nice measure of sportsmanship and it’s a good way of letting us all know that the game is over and that we can all be friends again.  

We, the fortunate who get to participate in college hockey, all partake.  We honor that tradition, regardless of the games outcome and regardless of how we may actually feel at that moment.  We connect eye to eye, we manage a smile and we say those handshake things that we have said countless times before.  

Last night there was an exception.  Last night American University hosted Rowan in such a game that the handshake quips of ‘good game’ and ‘nice job’ were said in absolute earnest and with a genuine mutual respect.   It went from heart to heart, not just hand to hand.  

Last night was Women’s College Hockey at its finest – producing a clinical game that could serve as a highlight film for skill, camaraderie, and sportsmanship.  If you watch that film with any cynicism towards hockey, it will have melted.  If your heart is no longer in hockey due to the ‘win at all cost’ mentality, your heart will be warmed.      

At the end of every game lies another tradition.  The coaches meet at the scorekeepers’ box, they sign the game card, and then they wish each other well.  We all do it.  We all feel obligated; no one wants to be the fool that breaks a respected rule of sportsmanship.  

Last night was the exception.  Last night two coaches spoke in authentic tones of awe, both struck by the moving levels of honor and achievement that were packed into a 51 minute hockey game.  Those two coaches are also among the fortunate.  

Last night American University hosted Rowan and both coaches had the honor of standing behind their respective benches.  They were proud of their team – and they were proud of the other team as well.  Their hearts too had been warmed.  

Sara Lemanski, the American University goalkeeper, made 44 saves.  That’s 44 saves in 51 minutes.   No one had to look very far to find heroes last night.  Sara made that job pretty easy.  

At the conclusion of the game, she pointed some blame at herself for not making even more saves. “I haven’t played in awhile and felt kind of rusty.”  She smiled.  “I guess it showed.”    

Uh, not really, Sara.  Actually, you were magnificent.    During the post game handshake, when I said that you ‘played great’ – that is exactly what I was thinking, it was exactly how I felt.  Just so you know, it was a privilege to watch you perform in that game. 

Laura Gedrimas, Captain of the first ever Rowan Women’s Hockey team, said that she was thrilled to have played in “one of the best games possible”.  

“That’s the game that everyone wants to play in, with both teams giving it their all, when it’s tied at 2-2 late in the 3rd Period.  It was just so much better than all the other games that I’ve ever been in.”  

Laura, as one of the founders of the women’s program at Rowan, is directly responsible for the creation of this team.  Today there must be a good number of people who are glad that she did so.  I know that I am.  

As for the conclusion of the game, I can tell you this.  When the time keeper rang the bell that ended the final round, both combatants walked triumphantly back to their corners, perhaps slightly bloodied…yet unrelenting, and unbowed.  

They knew that it had all been spent, that nothing was left in the tank, that whatever they had in their arsenal had been fired.  

Valor is a word often used, but seldom witnessed.  I saw 51 minutes worth of valor….and called the bout a Draw.    

Thank you American and Rowan for those memories that will let me fall asleep with a smile at the end of my day.  You have warmed my heart.    

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