Cook: Mt. Lebanon's Root could have 'Jerome Bettis' moment


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There was no Sidney Crosby moment Thursday night for Yale's Jesse Root when he returned home to skate on the hallowed ice of Consol Energy Center in the first national semifinal game at the Frozen Four. He did turn and fire a puck that struck the crossbar behind Massachusetts Lowell goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, feeling the same frustration that Crosby has felt on occasion during his storied career. "Yeah, in the second period. That one was real close," Root said. He also nearly won the game early in overtime with what would have been a fabulous Crosby-like goal, but, after jumping on a rebound and looking at an open net, he fanned on the shot. "The puck came off high. It must have been knee-high," Root said. "I had to try to bat that one out of the air. That would have been great to score there."

Don't think for one second, though, that Root left the grand building empty-handed. He scored the winning goal in Yale's wins against college powers Minnesota and North Dakota in the West Region to get his team here, but he's not greedy. He was just as ecstatic when linemate Andrew Miller blew by Massachusetts Lowell defenseman Gregory Amlong and put the puck behind the redoubtable Hellebuyck at 6:59 of overtime for a 3-2 win.

Root and Yale will play Quinnipiac or St. Cloud State Saturday night for the national championship.

Forget about Crosby, for a second.

Root has a chance to have a Jerome Bettis moment, winning a precious championship in his hometown.

"Warm-ups were pretty surreal," Root said about 30 minutes after this latest Yale win. "Just looking around and being in the Penguins' arena. As a huge Penguins fan still ... it's pretty incredible."

Root has been to games at Consol Energy Center with his father, David, who is a Penguins season-ticket holder. "I was a huge Mario fan, a huge Jagr fan. It played a huge role in developing my passion for the game," Jesse Root said. He played in old Mellon Arena once with his Mt. Lebanon High School team in the Penguins Cup. But to be back for the Frozen Four, the first for Yale since 1952? To have a chance to win a championship and walk for eternity with his teammates?

Root might be a big dreamer, but he couldn't possibly have dreamed that big.

"I've known for a few years that the Frozen Four was coming here," he said. "But it seemed so far away."

You know what they say about eating an elephant, right?

You do it one bite at a time.

"It's been a long journey, but it's been a great journey," said Root's father.

It started right here.

"Playing for the Pittsburgh Hornets was so great for me," Root said. "We played against the best competition and had the best coaching."

After his sophomore year at Mt. Lebanon, Root enrolled in the Taft School, a coeducational boarding school in Watertown, Conn., not far from the Yale campus. It was tough leaving home, really tough leaving his family. But it was the best thing for Root.

"I always wanted to compete at the highest level -- athletically and academically," Root said. "I always wanted to go to an Ivy League school. Going to Taft gave me my best chance ...

"It was an easy call going to Yale. I visited and fell in love with the place. I loved the coaching staff. I committed on the spot."

Root, a junior, is majoring in political science and hopes to work in investment management.

I'm thinking it wouldn't be hard to trust him with my money.

Root knew he was going to get a fabulous education at Yale, but there were no guarantees with the hockey even this season. Yale lost its final two games before the NCAA tournament, getting shut out by Union and Quinnipiac. It made the tournament as a No. 4 seed.

That's what made Yale's 3-2 overtime win against top-seed Minnesota in the first round so shocking. Root scored the winner just 9 seconds in, an NCAA tournament record for fastest overtime goal. The Yale wave continued with a 4-1 win against North Dakota and would have washed away Massachusetts Lowell a lot easier if not for the outstanding work of Hellebuyck, who made 44 saves. Yale outshot Massachusetts Lowell, 47-18, including 23-3 in the third period and overtime.

"We had a game plan that was to shoot from everywhere," Root said. "I think we did that pretty well."

It would have been such a wonderful story if Root had been able to knock in that rebound out of the air early in overtime, but he certainly wasn't complaining that Miller got the winner.

"I saw him get a stride on the defenseman," Root said. "I see him do it every day in practice. I wasn't the least bit surprised he put it in."

Miller's goal gives Yale a chance to play one final game with everything at stake.

It gives Root one more chance to have his Crosby moment on Consol Energy Center ice.

Or his Bettis moment.

Root is smart.

He's a Yale man.

I don't have to tell you which he would prefer.

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Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan. First Published April 12, 2013 4:15 AM


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