A grateful goodbye

Thankful and proud to be a part of the Collegian’s historic legacy

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By Liam Flaherty, Assistant Sports Editor

When I got here, I had no idea what to expect.

If you had told me on September 18, 2016, the day I first stepped foot through the Massachusetts Daily Collegian doors, that I would be actively covering a national championship game in three years, I probably would not have believed you.

If you told me the University of Massachusetts hockey team would be playing in that game? I probably would have laughed. It just didn’t seem possible. Like at all. The year I arrived in Amherst the team went through a dismal five-win campaign.

To the shock of myself and the rest of the college hockey world, that’s exactly what happened last April when the Minutemen took the ice in Buffalo, New York with a shot at claiming the NCAA crown, and the rest of the 2018-19 Collegian hockey beat and I were there covering it, high above the ice at  KeyBank Center along with the rest of the media.

Except, somehow, four years after that first stroll into the Campus Center, down the escalator and into the shadows of the window-less basement office where time feels like an illusion, covering that historic run isn’t what I’ll cherish most as I walk out the Collegian doors for the final time.

Above all else, it’ll be the people that made the opportunities the Collegian gave me so special.

The friendships, the late nights, the long car rides. Those are what will stick inside my head the most.

After 181 articles and a countless number of games covered, I’ll never forget the welcoming faces that made this student-run newspaper such a special place to call home for the last four years.

Don’t get me wrong, the memories I made in three years covering the hockey team will stay with me forever. It means the world to me to be a part of the Collegian sports section’s legacy and to have upheld the standard of coverage set by the cast of sports writing titans that came before me.

From Greg Carvel and the Minutemen claiming their first-ever Hockey East regular-season title, to Marc Del Gaizo singlehandedly pushing UMass to an overtime win in the Frozen Four to Cale Makar dominating college hockey and winning the Hobey Baker, the list of those memories goes on and on.

But once again, it all goes back to the people. The ones that made this job feel like less of a job. If I had the time and space to go through and list them all here I would, but those people know who they are.

From the countless road trips and late nights spent working tirelessly inside the confines of the Mullins Center to just hanging out, chatting all things pro and college hockey around the practice rink before media sessions with Carvel and the players, there were always moments and people to look forward to that made each and every day an absolute blast.

This year, as the COVID-19 pandemic rolled in and upended everyone’s lives, the Hockey East playoffs were canceled just 24 hours before the puck was scheduled to drop on Game 1 of the tournament.

In the blink of an eye, a promising season was over.

Without warning, my last game had been covered, my last interview conducted. Four amazing years with the Collegian over with – just like that. No perfect goodbye, no storybook ending, no nothing.

That’s okay, though, because I’m just glad I got to enjoy the journey – a wildly unexpected one that surpassed all of my expectations, taught me more than I thought imaginable and poured fuel on my already-fiery passion for writing, sports and the ever-interesting athletes that participate in them.

As I set out in May to join the hundreds of other journalists that have ventured into the office only to leave with a deep appreciation for the things it did for them and the people it brought them in contact with, I am beyond grateful I got to experience the full beauty of the Collegian.

Now I get it. Now I see what makes this place so special and why it remains so close to its staff’s hearts even years after they move on. It’s made me the journalist I am today, and I am so, so thankful.

Heading into an unprecedented world that’s still without sports, with zero notion of when they will return, I don’t know what to expect heading into the future once again, just as it was for me in 2016.

But if the Collegian taught me anything, it’s that good things happen when you least expect them.

So, here goes nothing.

Liam Flaherty was an assistant sports editor at the Collegian and can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @_LiamFlaherty.