The following takes place between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. on Sunday, March 19, 2006.
Bristol, Connecticut 10:00 a.m.
There was one hour to go before ESPN2 would air the 2006 NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Selection Show. Everything seemed to be in order. All the championship games were in the books. The Committee had deliberated long into the night. And Adam Wodon had once again avoided shaving. The seeds and pairings would be announced to the anxious college hockey community right on schedule at 11:00 a.m.
Parry Sound, Ontario 10:05 a.m.
The two men were done with their work. Or so it seemed when the smaller man hit “Save” on his laptop and allowed himself a smile and a sip of coffee from his Tim Horton’s cup.
Months of planning were about to pay off. Imagine, from this bunker north of the border, the world of NCAA ice hockey was about to be embroiled in turmoil. The taller man made two phone calls. The first was to the Westin Hotel in Indianapolis to congratulate two operatives. The second went to Scarborough to tell the OHL Commissioner that the job was indeed complete.
Washington, D.C. 10:10 a.m.
Deep in the fortress that housed the nation’s top counter-terrorism unit (CTU), Chloe was growing increasingly concerned as she monitored communications in and out of the United States from Canada. New chatter indicated terrorist activity in Canada with a direct link to someone inside the NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis.
Indianapolis, Indiana 10:15 a.m.
Though all the statistical work had been checked and re-checked the night before, Mark Bedics was a perfectionist. He turned on his computer inside the NCAA’s massive offices in Indianapolis. Something was wrong. As he accessed the PairWise rankings, the computer program that determined the field for the NCAA Ice Hockey Championships, he saw something that sent a chill up his spine. The rankings had changed since his last check at 2:15 in the morning even though no games had been played. Brown University was projected as a Number Three seed.
Bedics dialed the inside number at Bristol.
Bristol, Connecticut 10:20 a.m.
The call was patched in to NCAA Hockey Committee chair Marty Scarano. “Marty, we have a problem,” said Bedics. “The computer is acting strange. It says Brown is in and a Number Three.”
“That can’t be,” answered Scarano. “Maybe it’s someone’s idea of a joke. Didn’t Chris Berman go to Brown? He might be around here.”
Bedics’ screen changed again. “Marty, it’s happened again. Now it says Arkansas State is a Number Four seed. And they don’t even have hockey.”
“It’s worse than that,” said Scarano somberly. “Their nickname is ‘The Indians.'”
Washington, D.C. 10:25 a.m.
Agent Jack Bauer was reading the Sunday paper. In the last 23 hours, he had prevented the release of nerve gas on the Georgetown campus, thwarted an assassination attempt on the Secretary of State, uncovered a plot to contaminate the water supply at the Pentagon, and resuscitated the Washington Capitals’ power play.
He thought his work was done for the day when the call came in from CTU. Something or somebody was messing around with the NCAA’s computer and the fate of the national championships was at stake.
Normally, no one in Washington, D.C. would give a rat’s ass about college hockey, thought Bauer. But then he remembered. The Frozen Four was coming to the nation’s capital in 2009. He recalled how President Bush, a Yale man, used his connections to then-Hockey Committee chair Wayne Dean of Yale to secure the bid.
At least that was the story circulating inside the Beltway. Personally, Bauer thought Vice-President Cheney had secured the bid by threatening to take Frank Serratore on a hunting trip. Or was it the other way around?
Bauer got right on the case.
Bristol, Connecticut 10:30 a.m.
By now, the entire hockey committee was in the room with Scarano, as was NCAA Coordinator of Officials Frank Cole. Bedics remained on the line from Indianapolis. He was on speaker phone.
“It’s not just the PairWise now,” said Bedics. “They have hacked into my press release. It has us sending North Dakota away from Grand Forks and Wisconsin away from Green Bay. It has teams from the same conference playing each other. Now RIT is in. This is a disaster!”
Just then, Marty Scarano’s cell phone rang. It was Jack Bauer.
Washington, D.C. 10:35 a.m.
Bauer was sitting at Chloe’s terminal inside CTU, speaking with Scarano through the tiny cell phone that was implanted in his upper lip. It had remarkably consistent reception but made him look like Billy Idol when he talked. He was conferencing with both Bristol and Indianapolis.
“Listen to me, we don’t have much time,” said Bauer. “You have to answer a few questions. Who has access to this computer program?”
Scarano deferred to Bedics. “No one outside of the national office,” said Bedics. “I mean, the guys at USCHO think they have this stuff but they’re not even close.”
“What about somebody named ‘Danehy’ in Canton, N.Y.? His name keeps coming up as a person of interest on our computer,” said Bauer.
“He’s interesting, all right,” said Bedics. “But not in a criminal sort of way.”
Bauer had hacked into the NCAA’s computer from his desk at CTU. He was looking for any clue that would break this stalemate.
“It’s changed again,” said Bedics. “The ECACHL lost its AQ. These people are merciless.”
“That might not be the terrorists,” said Tom Jacobs, who had joined Bedics at the NCAA Office. “The NCAA Sub-Committee on Abbreviations just issued an interpretation that says the ECACHL has too many letters in its name. They can appeal to the Management Council in June but there’s nothing we can do right now.”
Scarano realized it was now a 15-team field. “Who got their spot?”
“Bedics backed away from his screen in disbelief. “According to my release, it’s Kazakhstan and they’re going to Worcester.”
“Well, at least they’ll feel right at home,” said Bauer.
Parry Sound, Ontario 10:40 a.m.
He hadn’t been home in months. Little had changed since former CCHA Commissioner Bill Beagan had left Parry Sound for the warmer climes of South Carolina. It was good to be back.
Washington, D.C. 10:45 a.m.
Bauer was looking at NCAA security tapes through his iPod. Bedics, viewing the same images, walked him through the drill, vouching for the authenticity of each visitor to the NCAA offices over the previous 24 hours. A night watchman had been dragged out of bed and brought down to headquarters. Bauer grilled him over the phone and soon realized that two visitors to the building were not accounted for on the sign-in sheet.
“Describe these men,” said Bauer. As the sleep-deprived guard offered his description, he added, “Oh yeah, they said they were hockey coaches coming out of some seminar.”
“Bedics called up his expansive file of coaches’ head shots stored as jpegs. He had the guard scan them quickly.
“Stop, that one,” he said, pointing to Don Lucia. “No, sorry. The hair. It was even scarier. Wait. That one,” he said, pointing at an image of Red Berenson. “That was one of the guys.”
Bedics went back to scrolling the head shots.
“The other guy had very little hair,” said the guard. “He stopped at Greg Cronin. The Lowell assistant coaches. Dan Fridgen. He stopped at Ted Donato. He wasn’t sure.
“Try retired coaches,” said Bauer. As soon as the guard saw the face of Bill Cleary, he yelled, “Bingo!”
From Bristol to Indianapolis to Washington, jaws dropped. Why would Red Berenson and Bill Cleary want to disrupt the NCAA Tournament? Both had been successful in the event. Both Harvard and Michigan had made it.
Something didn’t add up.
Indianapolis, Indiana 10:50 a.m.
His interrogation complete, the watchman started to walk home to complete his sleep. As he passed a trash receptacle on the spotless Indianapolis street, his eyes caught something unusual sticking halfway out the bin. Upon closer examination, it was a rubber mask of a bald man.
A pair of bifocals was stuck to it. Together, the resemblance to Bill Cleary was unmistakable. Beneath the first mask was a second, one that looked very much like Red Berenson.
Washington, D.C. 10:55 a.m.
When this guard’s discovery was relayed to Jack Bauer, it all became crystal clear to him. After all, he was the nation’s most brilliant counter-espionage agent. And, more importantly, there were only five minutes left in the hour.
Bauer reconnected to Indianapolis and Bristol. He spelled out what had happened and what had to happen next.
“Few men are as respected in your community as Red and Billy, right? No one would question their movements or motives, correct? The terrorists chose them not only for their reputations but because Red and Billy held the exact opposite views from the terrorists.
“Your terrorists are from Major Junior Hockey in Canada and their goal was to disrupt the NCAA Tournament, the Holy Grail of college hockey and the one thing they can’t match, even with their Memorial Cup. The one time of the year college hockey gets national face time is this tournament and it bothers the Junior people to no end.”
Bauer wasn’t through. “We can’t change the computer from Indianapolis. CTU has traced the mother chip to a tiny bunker in Parry Sound, Ontario. We don’t have time to move people there. We need someone already on the ground with knowledge of the hockey community. If I can get a man to this bunker, I can walk him through the process.”
Parry Sound, Ontario 10:57 a.m.
Bill Beagan took the call from Jack Bauer.
“CCHA, er, I mean, hello,” said Beagan.
Bauer explained the situation to Beagan and asked if he would come out of retirement to again serve college hockey. The former commissioner agreed.
He hopped into his car and drove to the place CTU had located through its sophisticated GPS tracking system.
“Just do what I say,” said Bauer. “The bunker is under a sporting-goods store. There will be a small keypad on the door when you get there. Type in my name.”
“There seems to be a problem,” said Beagan. “Every time I type ‘Bauer’ it comes up ‘Nike Bauer Hockey Inc.'”
“Damn corporate identity issues!” screamed Bauer. “Remain calm, we just need to find the two-word passcode and we’re in.”
Bauer recited a string of two-word candidates for the codebreaker. “Try ‘Power Play.’ ‘Penalty Kill.’ Wait, try ‘Major Junior.’ Damn, these are all too obvious. How about ‘Mini Game.’ Maybe ‘Obstruction Holding.’ Try ‘Black Betty.’ Wait a minute, try ‘Pair Wise.'”
“That’s it,” said Beagan. “And I thought it was one word.” Bauer got into the system and within seconds, North Dakota was at home, the Badgers were off to Green Bay, the unlikely quartet of Brown, Arkansas State, RIT, and Kazakhstan had been eliminated, and the ECACHL had its AQ back. Everything was on schedule with a minute to go.
Washington, D.C. 10:59 a.m.
Jack Bauer closed his laptop and put away his iPod. Before disconnecting with Bristol and Indianapolis, he wished the NCAA hockey family good luck.
“We don’t know how to thank you,” said Scarano.
“That’s okay,” said Bauer. “I’m not much of a hockey fan anyway. But I do have one last question.”
“What’s that?” asked Scarano.
“How the hell is Nebraska-Omaha a Number Two seed?”
Joe Bertagna is Commissioner of the Hockey East Association and a special contributor to USCHO.com.