MANCHESTER, N.H.– You never quite realize how inaccurate the phrase “it’s just a game” is until you witness heartbreak personified in the face of a hockey team’s captain.
Wishing only that he could have done more for his team, UNH senior captain Mike Sislo sat in front of dozens of media outlets, with tears welling up in his eyes, pointing out mistakes he personally made and wished he could change.
This isn’t the first heartbreak that he has seen in his tenure as a Wildcat, but for him, this was the last time he would put his heart on the line for his teammates on the ice. Not bothering to hide tears, the leader of a successful Wildcat team was hit harder by this 2-1 loss to Notre Dame than any hit he could have taken on the ice.
“There’s a couple of chances I wish I could take back,” Sislo choked out. “In the first on the power play, I had the open net and put it high and then on the last power play in the third I missed the net. I wish I could take them back, but I can’t.”
While Sislo was the first to take any blame for his team’s loss, he also mentioned how, in the last two minutes of the game, a penalty taken by Mike Beck really set the Wildcats back and sunk whatever hopes they had left.
With more than six minutes left to go in the third period, Sislo found the back of the net with a pass from alternate senior captain Matt Campanale. The Wildcats seemed to find a renewed kick in their step and, until 1:44 left in the game, they had everyone in the arena thinking another miracle could take place in Manchester.
But, much more similar to the game against Boston University two years ago in the regional final, a late penalty hindered them from any hope of advancing to the Frozen Four.
“I got deep and Campanale did a great job of getting the puck to me,” Sislo said. “I stopped it with my skate and got it in. We needed it, the goal was huge for us, it gave us a jump. But the late penalty really hurt us.”
This is Sislo’s as well as all the seniors’ fourth time making the national tournament, but never once have they made it past the regional games to the Frozen Four. In fact, the last time the Wildcats made it to that prestgious level was back in 2003. And it doesn’t even need to be mentioned that they haven’t ever won a national title.
But, the stage was set for them again. They beat the No. 1 seed. They did the hard part. And yet once again, they fell after knowing what was in front of them, despite their best efforts not to repeat history.
The loss wasn’t due to a lack of effort or passion. The Wildcats put up 38 shots against Notre Dame netminder Mike Johnson, who was seeing the puck very well and coming up big for the Fighting Irish when they needed him.
“He was great all weekend,” Sislo said. “He made it really tough getting shots on net and not giving up rebounds.”
Though it’s inevitable that most seniors will leave without a national championship title, year in and year out, the Wildcats see glimpses of what could be or what might be, but are looking through a glass window or barrier they can’t seem to break. Each yeah the goal is the same for the senior class, and that’s to be the year to finally bring home a national championship.
But when the time comes and goes, as it has for so many UNH teams, perhaps tears are what keeps the motivation going for the next year’s senior class.
“It’s a lot of disappointment,” UNH head coach Dick Umile said. “Once again we had a great group of players and the senior class was tremendous. Two, three times we’ve lost in the regional finals. I feel for them. They’ve done everything to get to the Frozen Four. It’s disappointing.”