Many Boston University hockey fans, including myself, played the "what if" game last Saturday night. You know the game, the one where we ask ourselves "What if this happened differently?" This time I played it 11 minutes and 24 seconds into the third period of the national championship game.
The Providence Friars shot a puck from center ice, where it proceeded to go airborne and land in the glove of Terriers' goalie Matt O'Connor. It looked like an easy catch, but the puck fell out of O'Connor's glove and into the net, tying the game. The Friars scored again to take the game and the championship. Terriers fans on Twitter were quick to blame O'Connor for the Terriers loss.
And the "what if" game began again. What if O'Connor hadn't dropped that puck?
This phenomenon happens at every level of sports. What if we ran a different play? What if there were different referees?
What if I had worn my lucky underwear? It's easy and convenient to put these things on a scapegoat.
This game isn't limited to sport. I do it all the time in my personal life. What if I chose not to pursue a career in journalism? What if I didn't break up with that girlfriend? What if I didn't move to Marshall? The game keeps you up late at night. It's masochistic, yet it's hard to stop playing.
Through nearly a year of reporting on sports, I've come to the conclusion that the "what if" game is absolutely the worst game to cover.
Ninety-nine percent of the time, your situation in life cannot be traced back to a single moment or decision.
Our lots are determined by our own actions, our environment, our character and many other things that we can't always identify.
We also have a tendency to blank out things that might not fit the narrative.
It's convenient to blame O'Connor for his mistake, but it's much harder to break down the play of the Terriers top line and how they were outplayed by the Friars lineup.
Context and accomplishments can get lost in these moments. The Terriers season was by no means a failure.
Going from a 10-win season last year to the national championship game is quite the turnaround. Yet most people will probably just remember the O'Connor mishap.
So how do we stop playing the "what if" game? The best advice I have is just to lather, rinse, and repeat. It's no use agonizing over what has been done.
It's best get out of your head and get back on the ice.