My journey through Quinnipiac University started in the spring of 2006. I was a senior in high school, had applied to a bunch of different schools months earlier and was starting to get acceptance letters. Quinnipiac's letter happened to be in the pile.
I still remember the phone call. My mom called me, she asked if she could open the letter, I said yes and she read it to me. I got in. Quinnipiac had been my top school from the beginning, we visited a few times before and after I applied, it was beautiful, really. The campus was pretty, the classrooms were small and the school is spectacular in my desired major; communications.
We visited the school a week or so after. I sat in the student affairs office and thought about the biggest decision of my life. Whether or not to go to Quinnipiac. In the end, it wasn't much of a decision. I filled out all the forms, signed my name and that was that. A few months later I was driving up the road to start some of the best four years of my life.
I was officially a Quinnipiac Bobcat.
Quinnipiac doesn't have a football team. I remember sitting in one of the Q&A sessions and someone asked about bringing in a football team. The answer was no. It wasn't happening. But Quinnipiac hockey had been given a great honor the year before. In 2005 the Bobcats were inducted into the prestigious ECAC. The opponents were better, the conference got more national attention and it helped put Quinnipiac hockey on the map.
So many people ask me what it was like going to a college without a football team. Maybe it's because hockey is so rooted into my life, but I never noticed. Hockey games were a blast, the team was good. Not having football was the furthest thing from my mind.
My freshman year the Bobcats opened their season in the Northford Ice Pavillion, which was pretty much a high school facility. But January 27th, 2007 the Bobcats took the ice at the TD Bank Spots Center, a state of the art, $52-million new arena. The arena contains two separate arenas inside of it, one for basketball and one for hockey. Both sides came with their own facilities. Quinnipiac hockey took it's next big step.
I remember walking into the building for the first time. It was crisp, clean. The ice gleamed, the doors flooded with students and I took my place in the students section. My God, I thought after Quinnipiac scored their first goal, this place is loud.
I remember sitting in the stands during the first round of the ECAC playoffs. The game went into overtime. "Jamie Bates is going to score the game winner," I told my friends. It was a gut feeling. Moments later he did. And after the celebration and bragging about how I was a genius (because, of course I would do that) I felt it. I was home. This was another team to pull at my heart the same way the Rangers did.
That year Quinnipiac made it all the way to the ECAC finals. They lost to Clarkson 4-2 after blowing a two-goal lead in the third. I watched the game on my computer. I was heartbroken. But I was also inspired. They would bounce back. They had to.
They did and they didn't. Quinnipiac would fall into a roller coaster ride for it's fans. There would be great moments and then disappointing moments. Nothing proved this more than my senior year.
In 2010 the Bobcats won some huge games, kept winning and found themselves ranked 4th in the country. That weekend Quinnipiac was slated to play Yale on the road and then Brown. Me and my roommates made the easy choice, we were going to the game.
That afternoon we drove down to New Haven, pre-gamed at a local bar and walked to Ingalls and joined another 100 or so Quinnipiac fans at the game. We sat behind the visitor's net, yelled and screamed, caused a ruckus, went crazy and watched Quinnipiac take a late third-period lead. A lead they would blow. They eventually lost the game. "Well," I told my friends as we walked out, "I would rather lose tonight than lose to Brown tomorrow." Brown, who was an ECAC bottom-feeder that year, also beat Quinnipiac the next day. The ranking was gone.
That's why this year was so special. Quinnipiac won, and won, and won and kept winning. They played 21 games in a row without a loss. Blasted through the rankings. They earned the top seed in the country. It was the first time a Quinnipiac sports team had ever been ranked 1st in the country. That felt good.
I enjoyed talking to friends, families, co-workers and even strangers on the train about Quinnipiac's success. "Are they D-1?" so many would ask. I would smile and nod. It felt good. I was proud.
There's a different kind of pride in collegiate sports, I'm not sure why. I think it has to do with the fact that you choose your college and they choose you. Without a mutual partnership you can't go to the school and you don't have the same bond. I've been a Rangers fan since the day I was born (seriously, my dad made me watch a Rangers game the day I was born), and I love them more than most things in my life. I love Quinnipiac just as much, but in a different way. Quinnipiac is close to my heart, I was a Bobcat, I am a Bobcat.
So it made sense that I would swell with pride as the Bobcats took on St. Cloud in the Frozen Four. It made sense that I was thrilled they got the #1 ranking, made it into the NCAA tournament and won their first two games to get there. It made sense that I had a pit in my stomach the entire game.
But Quinnipiac did what they've done this entire year, they won. They won 4-1. It wasn't as smooth as the scoreline would indicate, but they won the game. They're going to the National Championship.
This is the part of the story where I don't know what to say. Sometimes when you're writing the hardest things to talk about seem like the easiest things to talk about. This should be easy. The storyline is there (Quinnipiac Vs. Yale), the prize is there (a National Championship) but the words simply aren't. It might take some time to sink in. It might take some time to comprehend.
I couldn't be more proud of my school. I couldn't be more proud of my hockey team. And I sure as hell couldn't be happier I made the decision I did back in the spring of 2006.
Thanks for listening.