MJ: Purdie Borrows Ryan's Nightmare
It was all swept away in the wake of last year's 9-8 victory over Adelphi in the Division II national championship, but Mercyhurst head coach Chris Ryan had some serious baggage heading into that game.
There was the sad story of him bringing his two dogs down to his man-cave in 2010 in hopes of not being left out of the tourney with a 13-1 record even though, in the depths of his soul, he knew they were out. There was also the game tape from the '07 title game, in which a tipped pass floated into the Mercyhurst net with one second left, giving Le Moyne a 6-5 victory.
That game tape has sat unwatched, at least by Ryan, in the Lakers film room since the loss. We found out after the Lakers win last year that an assistant coach had surreptitiously held a viewing of the verboten video for the players – along with the admonition: "Don't let this happen again" – but Ryan has never felt the need to mentally flagellate himself by replaying the excruciating loss.
Ryan has now found absolution for that loss with the championship ring on his finger, but his burden has been transferred to the coach who Mercyhurst just vanquished: Adelphi's Gordon Purdie.
"I haven't watched it," said Purdie of the 2011 title tilt tape, with the sound of the underlying sadness masked by his Australian lilt.
"It's on my desk and I look at it every day," he continued. "I picked it up yesterday, and then put it back where it was. There will be a time for me to watch it, but I haven't found that time yet."
Reasonable people can argue which is the tougher loss: a tipped pass for a goal with a second left or a game-tying bounce shot stopped by the goalie with time expiring. When it happens during the most important game of the season, the circumstance doesn't really matter. The agony of coming up short on one out of a hundred plays will always linger.
Compounding Purdie's uneasiness was Adelphi's inability to escape fall ball the way it had hoped. "A good fall is a healthy fall, and unfortunately we weren't," said Purdie.
Several key players, including a promising newcomer lost for the year, are dinged up heading into the offseason. The injury bug hampered Purdie's focus on building a strong defensive midfield unit – an area that was exposed in the national championship game when Mercyhurst middie Ian Wild operated from behind the goal.
"Did that happen last night or was that just my nightmare," said Purdie, laughing. "It happens over and over again."
The sleepless nights will continue for a while and the game film will continue to taunt the Adelphi coach, but Purdie has an advantage over Ryan: he likely won't have to wait four years to expunge the memories of Memorial Day weekend. Mercyhurst will probably get the honor of leading the preseason rankings, but Adelphi could be the most complete team returning in 2012, regardless of the offseason injuries. The Panthers have premium players in goal (Eric Janssen), in the midfield (Joe Vitale) and at attack (Danny Blau), along with plenty of talent returning on defense.
If Adelphi is able to end Purdie's night terrors in 2012, this will all seem kind of silly. Until then, however, the Panthers coach's nightmares still seem very real.