Alaska Anchorage was in its familiar position near the bottom of the WCHA standings when it came into Duluth and swept the hometown Bulldogs to end the 2008-09 regular season.
Minnesota Duluth coach Scott Sandelin was under fire after four straight losing years from the fall of 2004 to the spring of 2008, and now this once-promising season had deteriorated into a seventh-place finish in the WCHA.
Andrew Carroll was a senior and the first hockey player in UMD annals to serve as a co-captain for three years. The Bulldogs left the ice at the DECC after the 4-3 loss to the Seawolves on Saturday night and soon there was a players-only meeting taking place in the locker room.
Kevin Pates was covering the Bulldogs for the Duluth News Tribune at the time and offered this when we exchanged messages this week:
“I’m not sure if Carroll was the most outspoken in that meeting, but during his 153 games as a UMD left winger, he spoke loudly and with dogged determination at practice and in games. This guy did smile, a lot, but he was very serious in his approach to the game.’’
Whatever the message in that meeting, from Carroll and others, including goalie Alex Stalock, the Bulldogs of March 2009 saved a season, probably saved Sandelin’s job, and inspired a revival that has UMD back in the Frozen Four next week in St. Paul — the third such appearance in eight seasons.
The Bulldogs have had an “AC’’ decal in honor of Carroll on their helmets since a midweek game with Minnesota State Mankato in late January.
A few days earlier, Andrew had been visiting friends in Chicago, with tickets to watch the Blackhawks and New York Islanders on Saturday night at United Center.
Carroll, 32, was not known as a drinker, and did not drink that Friday. Suddenly, around midnight, he grabbed his bag, told his companions that he had to get back home, headed for O’Hare, bought a ticket for a 7 a.m. flight, then went to a parking structure and jumped to his death.
Loved ones, hockey friends, fans of his dogged determination on the ice, strangers hearing or reading of his death — no one can avoid the thought, “Why?” and yet the people closest to Andrew must move on from that.
Chris Carroll, his older brother by 3½ years, started taking Andrew to the rink at Bobby Theisen Park in Shoreview when he was first on skates. They were the children in a family of four, rivals, ruffians and best of pals.
“Everybody is going to face difficult situations in life, even tragic situations,’’ Chris said this week. “You have to make a choice as to how you’re going to respond. Ultimately, there can be good, if somehow your response might help others.’’
Carissa Carroll, Chris’ wife, already had taken on that task with her response after the birth of Jack, their second child, in 2013. Luke is 7, daughter Taylor is 2½, and Jack, 5, was born with Down syndrome.
Carissa started Jack’s Basket, a nonprofit to offer support to families with children with Down syndrome. She writes a blog at jacksbasket.org, and she wrote of her brother-in-law’s death in a Jan. 28 post under the headline, “Bring your brokenness, and I’ll bring mine.’’
As the hockey world that Andrew Carroll touched has mourned and wondered, the immediate family has remembered a wonderful uncle. There’s the homemade rink in Chris and Carissa’s backyard, and Andrew, a bachelor, was out there often with Luke and Jack.
“He even had Taylor started on skates,’’ Chris said. “He was going to turn all of them into real hockey players.’’
Chris Carroll is the boys hockey coach at Blaine, after several years as an assistant. Andrew spent six of his first seven years after college playing in the ECHL and the American Hockey League. In the offseason, he would train players from Blaine and elsewhere, both on the ice and in the workout room.
Blaine’s Riley Tufte, a UMD sophomore and a first-round draft choice of the Dallas Stars in 2016, was a prized hockey pupil for Carroll.
“He was very energetic and never liked to lose,’’ Tufte said. “You couldn’t outwork him. If you did 50 pushups, he’d do 60. He pushed you to work harder. I can’t thank him enough.”
On that January weekend in Chicago, Andrew was with Tanner Tufte, and they were going to stay at the Wrigleyville condo of Gavin Tufte. The Tuftes are Riley’s brothers.
They were back in the condo late Friday, talking, and then Andrew said he had to get back to the Twin Cities, grabbed his bag, and headed for O’Hare.
• • •
The players-only meeting at the DECC on March 7, 2009 broke up, and it was followed by a strong week of practice, and then the Bulldogs went to Colorado College and swept the Tigers in the first round of the WCHA playoffs. That put them in the WCHA Final Five, where Stalock, the Wild’s current backup goalie, gave up one goal total in beating the Gophers, North Dakota and Denver, and UMD advanced to the regional — at Mariucci Arena.
“We were down to Princeton two goals with under a minute left, and scored twice … the last in the final second,’’ Sandelin said. “Andrew was so fired up; I had to say, ‘Calm down … we still have to win this thing.’ ’’
The Bulldogs won in overtime, and then the improbable, program-turning, job-saving March run ended with a 2-1 loss to Miami (Ohio) in the West Regional final.
Andrew Carroll’s college career was over after 153 games.
“He sat on the bench in the locker room in his uniform for a long time,’’ Sandelin said. “Really long … maybe two hours. He didn’t know if he’d get a chance to play pro. He thought it might be his last game.
“And Andrew loved playing hockey games as much as anybody I’ve been around.’’