"Whoa!" yelled one of the Eagles. "Wow!" yelled another. "Who scored it? Agostino? No, no, it's Root," said a third. "He must want to go home to Pittsburgh for the Frozen Four pretty bad."
"I couldn't be more excited," Yale junior center Jesse Root said Thursday at Ingalls Rink.
"He's thrilled," said Root's left winger Kenny Agostino about his roommate since their freshman year. "He loves his city."
Sometimes the most telling moments are the unscripted ones. And as the BC guys, defending national hockey champions until losing the following night to Union, stood there stunned, well, you got a feeling how big Root's goal in overtime to eliminate Minnesota was.
The biggest one of the college season so far, that's all.
Sudden death overtime with the season on the line has a life of its own. Sometimes it goes on forever. Sometimes it ends in the blink of an eye. This one in Grand Rapids would end in nine seconds.
Agostino picked off Ben Marshall's pass behind the net as the Gophers defenseman tried to swing the puck around boards, he found Root and — bang — it was over. For much of the winter it seemed as if everybody debated who's really No. 1. Quinnipiac? Or Minnesota? Thanks to Root we never got to the root of that argument.
"I was just focused on winning the faceoff, I lost it and Kenny did a great job tracking down their defenseman, he backed him all the way to corner and forced the turnover," Root said. "Then he made a great play to circle behind the net and put it on my stick."
He was happy to end it quickly and save his teammates' legs for the next night. For Root wasn't nearly finished. With No. 2 overall Minnesota out of the way, the No. 15 Bulldogs found themselves down 1-0 to No. 8 North Dakota late in the West Regional final.
"We were playing really well," Root said. "Coach [Keith] Allain said in between the second and third period, if we get one, we'll get three. We believed." They didn't get three. The Bulldogs got four in the final 7:35, including Root's game winner on the power play with 4:56 left, to get to their first Frozen Four since 1952.
Root, the MVP of the West Regional, was going home to Pittsburgh to face UMass-Lowell and maybe, just maybe Quinnipiac for the national title.
"Jesse is such an honest player," Agostino said. "He gets written off sometimes as the 'hard-working center, the grinder,' but he can put the puck in the net and he's a talented player. He showed everybody that last weekend."
Root's dad, David, put him on skates when he was 2. By 5, he was playing in a house league. David was a Penguins season-ticket holder at the old Igloo and he'd take Jesse and his brother once a week. Jesse was weaned on Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr, Ron Francis and Ulfie Samuelsson. Later, Sidney Crosby became his guy. He has been in the Consol Energy Center, which opened in 2010, far fewer times — the last time at Christmas break 2011 — but it's across the street from the old place.
"And it'll bring back a lot of memories," Root said.
How deep does his Pittsburgh blood run? Dan Marino, one of the city's greatest athletes, is Root's cousin.
"We're an Italian family so we have big get-togethers around Christmas and he comes back every now and then," said Root, whose late grandfather Lefty Foster pitched in the Phillies organization after being a B-26 tail gunner in World War II. "He's a very busy guy. He's in Florida. My family is in Pittsburgh. We don't get to see him as often as we'd like, but he has been great. I've talked hockey with him."
Root hasn't heard from Marino since Grand Rapids, but he has heard from all sorts of alumni, relatives, friends, guys he grew up with … he calls all the attention "humbling. My parents do a lot of traveling to watch us play and it's really nice to give them a home weekend."
Yale has proven to be a resilient bunch. Even as late as the ECAC tournament, they were shut out back-to-back by Union and Quinnipiac. But there they were in Grand Rapids, pulling stunning upsets. And now matters have become almost humorously distant between Yale and Quinnipiac this week. When asked to reflect on the joy of having two New Haven area teams in the Frozen Four, Allain needed only two words.
"We're all very focused," Root said, "and nobody's more focused than coach Allain."
Root knows Quinnipiac's Dave Federico from playing with him on the Junior Bruins.
"I saw him at the ECACs and wished him the best of luck," Root said.
Any contact since the Frozen Four? No, he said.
"I think it's a great rivalry," Root said.
Growing up in the Pittsburgh suburb of Mount Lebanon, Root played on the town's Pennsylvania high school champions in 2006 before heading to prep school at Taft in Watertown.
"I always wanted to compete at the highest level academically and athletically," Root said. "Yale is obviously the best for it. And with a high emphasis on both, Taft does a great job preparing you both in terms of schoolwork and a hockey balance. I had a great coach in Dan Murphy."
Impressed with Yale, impressed with Allain and his coaches, Root committed as a senior. As a freshman, Root was in and out of the lineup, scoring a couple of goals in 25 games. As a sophomore, he was a regular with seven goals and 24 points. As a junior, he's centering the top line, working the power play and killing penalties. At times this season, Allain has warned folks away from calling Root a defensive center, he feels it is unfairly limiting.
"He's very good in all areas of game," Allain said.
"He makes it a lot easier for Andrew [Miller] and me, does all the little things that don't get as much recognition," said Agostino. Miller was first-team ECAC. Agostino was second team. As a linemate and Penguins fan, Root obviously was sensitive to Agostino's being traded along with St. Cloud State's Ben Hanowski and a first-round pick to Calgary for Jarome Iginla a day before the Minnesota game.
"He did a great job handling it and staying focused," Root said. "Obviously it was a high profile trade, getting traded for a [future] Hall of Famer. I didn't need to do anything."
"It's an honor to be part of a trade of that enormity," Agostino said. "I also knew if we were going to be successful, I had to push that to the back of my mind."
He did. Then he pushed the puck to Root to beat Minnesota and pushed the puck into the empty net to finish off North Dakota. Now Jesse Root goes home.
"We definitely have the talent, depth and team chemistry," Root answered when asked if Yale can win it all.
They also have a willing cook in Kathy Root.
"She's an Italian mother," Root said. "She would like nothing better than to have the entire team over for a pasta dinner and feed us until we explode."