Frozen Four boosts blood pressure of casual hockey fan

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Posted 3/29/16 (Tue)

Passing Dreams
By Steve Andrist

The Crosby Sports Arena was just about five years old when we started hanging out there in the early 1960s.
Not yet old enough for Cub Scout basketball, we turned to the only other option -- hockey.
The memories are vivid: tying the laces of both skates together so you could hang the pair over your stick and rest the stick on your shoulders to lighten the load for the walk home; cutting through the hole in the fence over by what was the Anderson Lumber building so you didn’t have to walk all the way around on the street; climbing the stairs to the upper level dressing rooms, then trying to stay upright as you descended with your skates on.
Also vivid is the photographic memory of a player on the old guys’ team taking the puck in the defensive zone, blowing past an opponent, passing the puck off the boards to himself as he skated around another defender, and putting a pass precisely on the stick of a speeding teammate who slipped it past a Canadian goalie who had no idea what had just hit him.
They said those guys were brothers who were working on a crew that was putting up the port building at Noonan.
Later, we heard they were Roger and Billy Christian of Warroad, Minn., who also were members of the gold medal-winning U.S. Olympic hockey team in 1960.
There’s one other memory. We were playing a team from north of the border, as all our opponents were then.
I was a 6- or 7-year-old defenseman, the only player between our goalie and a hulking Canadian who surely was 6’2” and 200 pounds, or so it seemed.
He carried the puck toward the net, lifted his stick like it was a fly swatter, smacked me across the shins, watched me fall harmlessly out of the way and calmly buried the puck in the back of the net.
Funny. That’s my last memory as a hockey player.
And while the Crosby hockey program went temporarily dormant shortly thereafter, we soon were taking annual Scout trips to Estevan to watch the Bruins -- and load up on Macintosh Toffee.
Later it would be our high school band making trips to see the Bruins and warm up the crowd.
Finally, high school was over and I was off to the University of North Dakota, where I would soon learn hockey was a much bigger deal even than in Estevan.
The Fighting Sioux weren’t that good during my four years in Grand Forks.
Uncharacteristically, it was the basketball and football teams that were winning championships in those days, topping teams like South Dakota State, Augustana, and yes, even North Dakota State.
But anyone who stepped into that old hockey rink to watch UND take on the likes of Notre Dame and Michigan and Minnesota and Wisconsin could tell that hockey was king.
Every sports enthusiast who wasn’t a hockey fan upon arrival at UND became one before graduating.
Even with my lifelong casual affair with the sport, however, I didn’t become a fanatic fan.
Besides keeping track of Crosby Comets teams and occasionally checking the sports pages for Minnesota Wild results, the team now known as the Fighting Hawks is the only one I keep regular tabs on. So it surprises me, every year about this time, that I find myself so emotionally vested in NCAA Division I post season play.
Saturday late afternoon, as I hit the TV “power” button to get ready for hockey’s version of the Sweet 16, I realized I hadn’t felt so nervous since our son helped Divide County win the state football championship in 1999.
By the time a late surge put some breathing room between the Fighting Hawks and Michigan, the only team that has won more national championships than UND, my blood pressure was through the roof.
By winning Saturday, UND qualified for its third straight trip to the Frozen Four, hockey’s version of the Final Four. It’ll be their eighth trip in the last 12 years; 20th in the last 26 years. 
All of which is to say: I’ve got two weeks to score some blood pressure pills.