Trip to North Dakota - Day One
CONTACT: Jeff Foley (518) 629-8085 or (518) 373-1262
FOR RELEASE: Immediate, Thursday, March 8, 2001
Thursday, March 8 – At 6:15 a.m., a plane carried 18 Hudson Valley Community College hockey players into the night sky. The flight, a 66-minute jaunt from Syracuse to Detroit, was the second leg of a draining 18-hour bus-and-plane trip that originated in Troy at midnight and would ultimately take the Vikings to Bottineau, N.D.
Native Trojan Kevin Graber settled into his seat and pulled his Notre Dame cap, complete with a lucky shamrock on the front, close to his eyes. He took a deep breath. This was the first time the second-year defenseman's feet had left the ground for more than a few seconds at a time, unless you count the post-game celebration he took part in on Feb. 25.
That was the day Graber scored a pair of goals to help Hudson Valley (22-4) defeat SUNY Morrisville for the NJCAA Region III title, earning the trip to North Dakota to face MSU-Bottineau (11-13-2) for the national junior college title. Bottineau qualified by placing first in a smaller region than the one Hudson Valley competes in.
"I've never flown before," Graber said. "I haven't really slept that much this week because we're going to nationals. The fact that I'm flying just put another stepping stone in my way."
In a literal sense, though, neither the flight, nor the two ensuing connecting flights, turned out to be a big deal for Graber.
"I just closed my eyes and slept," he said with a shrug.
In a more figurative sense, however, Graber's venture into a higher atmosphere represents a large step for himself and a giant leap for Hudson Valley's hockey team. In this, the club's first year qualifying for post-season play, the Vikings are a mere two wins away from a national crown.
Additionally, the team, 11-11 last season, is in the middle of a 14-game winning streak, and their 22 wins is eight more than any Hudson Valley hockey squad has managed since gaining varsity status in 1993.
For Graber personally, this tournament permits him the opportunity to complete a unique trio of athletic triumphs. He was a linebacker on the 1996 Troy High School football team that captured a state championship, and he played for the Troy South Dodgers when they went to the Sandy Koufax World Series in 1994.
"Me and my father were actually talking about this the other day, that hockey was the only one that I hadn't won a championship in," Graber said. "It'd be pretty exciting to win another one. We're here to win the nationals."