Your legs ache. Your knees are about to buckle. The stick is like a heavy weight in your hands. You cannot possibly go on. But you do.
Ask any Harvard women's ice hockey player about fatigue late in the game. The Crimson has learned a lot about being tired this season.
"I try and make myself not notice it, because you don't have a choice," junior Co-Captain Joey Alissi said. "You're legs get so tired. They get numb. We're in such good shape. It's only the second half of the third period that we start losing it. As good shape as you're in, you'll get tired."
A young, talented team, the Crimson suffered injury, sickness and a shortage of womanpower, and consequently lived through a taxing season of losses that were tough and wins that were inspiring but infrequent.
While the team continually exuded pride, unity and optimism, it was actually checked in its efforts by continual fatigue. When games came down to clutch time, the opponent was able to insert fresh players off the bench, while the Crimson could only summon up reserves of individual strength and adrenaline.
With only 12 players on its roster, Harvard had many fewer skaters than its opponents. Princeton has, by comparison, 23 players on its roster. Brown and St. Lawrence each have 21.
Whereas other teams utilized three or more lines in the offensive rotation, Harvard survived with two. On defense, the Crimson rotated only three players, so that defenders had little time for breathers.
The team made the best of the difficult situation and did not complain, but by all indications the player shortage showed in the standings.
Harvard finished the season with a 7-14-2 mark, 4-5-1 in the Ivy League. An exciting late-season streak in which the Crimson won two of three games against Ivy foes Yale and defending league champion Princeton was all but forgotten in the wake of a 4-1 loss to Dartmouth and an ECAC first-round playoff drubbing, 9-1, by Providence.
One statistic, perhaps, tells the whole story. In its 23 game season Harvard finished with eight frustrating one-goal losses to New Hampshire, St. Laurent, Providence, Queen's College, Brown, Boston College, Northeastern and St. Lawrence. These opponents benefited from Harvard's inability to stay effective and competitive in the waning moments of its contests.
Oftentimes, as in the heartbreaking loss to Northeastern, the Crimson led the entire game only to break down in the final minutes. Against B.C., in the Beanpot consolation game, Harvard mounted a late rally to even the score, but was rebuffed a few minutes into overtime by a game-clinching B.C. goal.
In general, it was neither the best nor worst of times. The season, which often showed signs of future success for the young Crimson club, was distinguished above all by fatigue. The players refuse, however, to blame conditioning for the what they experience on the ice. They also cite team spirit as a motivating factor which overcame opposing teams' superior strength in numbers and talent.
"We're all in the best shape we've been in, hockey-wise," Alissi said. "Some days you come out flat and can't get your legs going. If your legs aren there, it's hard to get them going. When we play back-to-back [games] that's not easy.
"So much of what we do, it comes from the heart. Let's be honest, some of the teams have superior talent, but we outhustle them."
Both Alissi and Co-Captain Kim Landry mentioned the Northeastern game as an example, in which Harvard led 2-0 with three minutes left but began to play defensively. Northeastern subsequently scored twice, then completed the tremendous comeback with a goal 50 seconds into overtime.