Tonight’s game was a gem. I enjoyed it as much as I’ve ever enjoyed watching a game. Talent, desire, desperation and meanness all in the name of the quest for Stanley.
Category Archives: Play-offs
As the play-offs for big boys begin, one has to wonder who will be the underdog that surprises this year. The first round of the NHL play-offs is one of the great carnivals of team sport. There’s always some team that shouldn’t, but does, which is often against a team that should have but doesn’t. Then again, sometimes it’s the team that should, that almost doesn’t but then somehow squeaks by, barely, in a first round scare. Often such a scare makes them better and harder to beat down the stretch.
Remember the year the Islanders played the Rangers after the miracle on ice in Lake Placid? Best of five and what a series. The Rangers could easily have won with another break or two, but they didn’t and the rest is history. Or how about the year the Flames won the cup way back when Vernon was in net for them in ’89. They survived a 7th game overtime in the first round, one in which Vernon stopped someone on a break-away to keep it alive. I’m not sure who missed on break-away, nor even who the other team was. As the Hip song says “no one’s interested in something you didn’t do.”
When I think of really good teams that just couldn’t win in the play-offs, the Washington Caps of the ’80’s come to mind. They had some great teams, and finished very high in the standings many years. I think they actually were tops in the league once or twice. They had some great players – Rod Langway, Denis Maruk, Mike Gartner – but they always found a way to lose.
Granted they bumped into some other great teams in those years – the Isles and the Oilers really owned the 80’s but for a team that was pretty solid, they ended up with not much to show for it.
It was St. Anne’s vs. Northminster sometime in the late 70’s or early 80’s. I think we were Bantams but maybe major Pee-Wees. They were a good team all year but we were better. Coaches Ed and Brian made sure we knew it. For a team that was just a bunch of house league kids, I think they had us playing with a bit of a swagger.
Still, when the puck dropped at the beginning of the two out of three final, the season to that point meant nothing. I remember the game well though. I don’t remember many other games that far ago but I do remember this one. We lead 3-0 early, coasted to a 5-1 win and beat them two straight.
33 years ago today, my St. Pete’s team headed off to OFSSA in Toronto. I was a grade 10 and played very little that year. We had a core of very strong older players where our best five on the ice were as good as the same best five from any team in the tournament. However, we didn’t have the depths with something like ten grade 10 players.
Still, it was a pretty cool atmosphere to be a part of, with me never having really played at a level higher than house league. We beat the Fort Frances Muskies in our Thursday game to advance to the semi’s on Friday night.
Our Friday night game was to be played at St. Mike’s arena, a little bit of a hockey shrine in its own right. We played the Henry Carr Crusaders whose 51-3-3 record on the season was impressive no matter how you looked at. The sported some high profile players – Pat Flatley, the future NHL’er and captain of the New York Islanders and Paul Higgins who would have a short career with the Leafs as an enforcer.
We were no slouch though and sported a 38-5-2 record. Henry Carr had beat us in the finals of the David Bauer tournament in the prior November. I didn’t play a single shift in the first game but played a couple of shifts in the Friday night game and remember being crazy nervous. It was an NHL moment to me. As the third period opened, we scored an early goal to make it a 5-3 game and at that point, it was one of those “you never know?” moments.
It didn’t last. They scored a cheap one on us shortly thereafter and it was all down hill from there.
The one that got away is a metaphor for many things in our world today. I really like to fish and have had a few good ones literally get away on me. My son caught a big bass one night when he was only 8 or 9 only to have it get away beside the boat because we did not have our net with us. It’s been the subject of much trash talk on every fishing trip since because without a picture (we have none), the truth of the story is difficult to confirm and gets more so with the passing of each year.
Then there is the one that got away in a courtship sense. As Jake Owen’s song by the same title laments, “Every summer that rolls around, I’m looking over my shoulder, wishing I could see her face, wishing I could hold her.” Well, I know you’re probably wondering how I’m going to tie this pile of country music drivel into a hockey story, but trust me on this one, the fish you couldn’t land and the love that got away are not to be out done by the game that got away, the check you didn’t quite pick up or the goal that wasn’t.
I’ve had a few of these. Nice life if these are my biggest laments but nonetheless, it is sometimes fun and a bit tortuous to look back and wonder what might have been. At OFSSA in my grade 11 year, we fell behind 5-1 at the end of the first in the semi-finals on a Friday night game in North Bay. The game was effectively over at that point. The final score 8-3 proves that. However, we were kids and didn’t know it at the time. We went to the dressing room shell shocked and our coach pumped us up saying there was lots of hockey left. We believed.
We scored the next one and made it 5-2 and shortly after that, I had a chance to make it 5-3. The puck came to me at the edge of the crease with the empty cage and I shoveled a gimmee backhander in. Somehow, their tender dove and got a glove on it. I can still see it, feel it. I went to the bench so frustrated. I heard this coach’s words over the prior two years saying that in a big game “you have to score on these chances” and I didn’t. We actually did make it 5-3 a bit later and the comeback was alive but they scored again shortly thereafter to make it 6-3 and that was that.
I really wish I had scored. If we could have got to 5-4, it would have been a different game. It was OFSAA. Bummer of a way to lose, to get blown out in the first period. There have been other missed goals, other missed checks but none had the significance of that year.
It’s a very long time since I’ve experienced the sensation of preparing for play-off’s as a kid. February makes me think of play-off’s in those years. As a kid, we had great play-off formats in house league. These varied across the years but there were several years where we played two out of three series in the semi’s and final’s. It was just like the NHL except we were 10 and it was house-league. We also had two games total goals which weren’t as good but at least you had a second chance if your first go was just a bad night.
There was an excitement that built up during the day at school if I had a playoff game that night. I used to get really nervous before play-off games in a way that I didn’t for the regular season contests. It was always a fun-nervous though – just a little more on the line and a little more exciting as a result. I always wanted to get to the rink a little earlier, and I was really enjoyed the increased level of competition. I was never a physical player but I always wanted to win. Still like it in fact. That’s why we keep score right?
I don’t agree with these movements in minor sports today that are suggesting we shouldn’t count goals until kids are 12 or something like that. I think it’s ridiculous. Winning is fun and important. Losing isn’t fun but learning how to lose graciously is an important life skill. All this blather about kids needing to develop skills instead being more important is bunk. Learning to win is a skill. Life is competitive and competition can be rewarding. Being a member of a team that wins a championship (yes, that means all the other teams didn’t win) is one of life’s great experiences. Watching the other clowns carry the trophy around when you lose is really depressing but oh what a motivator for next year.
Play-off’s baby, that’s what February was all about. And if you were still playing in March, well…..you done good.
I had to chuckle at Brian Burke’s comment in an interview I saw yesterday on why Dallas Eakins wasn’t considered the big job. Burke said “Eakins has never coached a playoff game in the AHL”. After 5+ years of seeing Leaf players heading to the golf course at the end of the 82 game regular season, years where they have been lead by coaches with play-off experience, I’m not sure this one makes a lot of sense to me.
As 2009 comes to a close, most Canadian sports fans would tell you that the biggest tactical sporting blunder of the year, and perhaps of all time, was made during this year’s Grey Cup game where the Saskatchewan Rough Riders’ vaunted 13th man actually turned out to be the grim reaper. However, only a few know, and even few of those are willing to speak of, an even bigger blunder that occurred in a pivotal moment of an equally important game.
That game was the Blue team’s second game of the WOHL’s annual Christmas round robin tournament where each of the four league teams plays three fifteen minute games in a two hour span. After breaking oddsmakers hearts across the land with a 2-0 loss in game one, the blue team needed to win game two in order to stay alive. Or did they? Ah….as the saying goes, that is the question.
With less than a minute to go and tied with the red team 0-0, (yes, the offense was feeling the pressure), the troops prepared to waive Fulch the goalie to the bench. However, the infamous red team then committed what appeared to be a most critical blunder when they iced the puck with 36 seconds to go. For why this was a bad move, please see an explanation of the WOHL’s last minute ice rule in this post.
With a penalty shot coming the blue team’s way at the end of regulation, there was no need to go with the extra man since the odds of scoring on the penalty shot were probably 50-50, better than the chance the extra attacker would provide the winning goal and, more importantly, not giving the red team the chance to snatch a limp victory by virtue of an empty net goal in the final seconds.
36 seconds to go and the clock ticking. Rich the ref scoops the puck up and takes it to the red team’s end for a face-off. Out comes Fulch. But wait….some on the Blue bench are screaming to put him back in. 30 seconds. Fulch arrives at the bench. “PUT HIM BACK IN – WE’VE GOT A PENALTY SHOT COMING!”. Others on the blue bench, particulary Rajna, want Fulch squarely on the bench so we can go for the victory in regulation. 25 seconds. Trimble and Warmington and Crowley are screaming at Rajna and Erb that we need to put him back in the cage but to no avail. 16 seconds. The extra attacker heads for the red team’s end. The puck drops, there’s 10 seconds of scramble and then the red team clears it out of their end , crosses centre and scores into the empty net with 1 second to go. Argh……
But wait, there’s more. Warmington then took the penalty shot, which the blue team was still awarded, knowing it’s meaningless since we needed a win to stay alive. Or did we? (Wasn’t there one year where the four game round robin had all four teams tied with 1-1-1 records and some complex tie breaker rule was needed? ) He missed after getting poke checked out near the blue line somewhere (he didn’t read my earlier blog post, see link above, on how not to take a penalty shot) and the final score is 1-0 red team.
After the game, it’s a bitterly divided bleu dressing room. The mitts were dropped, as well as some pretty good one-liners, and then cooler heads prevailed. After all, win or lose, there were still wings and bevies to be had at the Central after game three.
The red team went on to win the tournament but it was a tainted victory. Kinda like the Stanley Cup game where Brett Hull scored with one foot in the crease to win it for Dallas.
It looked like he had an egg underneath the skin on the side of his neck, I thought as I looked down at our fallen goalie as he lay writhing in the goal crease. Not good, not good at all. The “he” in question was one of the two goalies on our high school hockey team. He had just taken a hard snap shot off the side of his neck just under his mask from close range at the very start of an after-school hockey practice. He was really writhing in pain. I was concerned. Really concerned.
Not so much for him, but for our team. Not so much for the high school team, since this was only a practice and we didn’t have a game for a couple of days and we did have another goalie. No, what I was concerned about was that this particular goalie, classmate and good buddy of mine, who was in what could be mortal pain and circumstances, was also the goalie (the Only goalie) of our house league team and we had our opening game of the finals that night after supper. 7:00 or 8:00 PM if I recall. Only a few hours away. Tough to win in the finals (it was a 2 out of 3 series I think) with no goalie and it was unlikely the league would allow us to postpone because our goalie was hurt (or worse) – they just didn’t reschedule for stuff like that. Not back then, not ever.
However, after ten minutes or so, he was able to get to his feet and we got him off the ice so the practice could continue. I don’t really know what kind of care he received. I’m not sure if he went to the emergency department or his family doctor but given the times, I suspect he just went home. Anyway, a few hours later when I arrived at the rink again for the first game of the finals, our trusty goalie rolled into the dressing room, bag in tow. It was a great feeling. We all felt good he wasn’t dead, which from the perspective of some of us on the ice shortly after he got hurt, appeared to be a real possibility. Mostly however, we were just happy none of us would have to play net that night.
There was one minor problem though. He couldn’t really move his head very well. In fact, he couldn’t turn it all in one direction. We thought and then we strategized, as all teams do prior to the finals, and we decided we would work extra hard to limit shots to that side of him. Good plan. We felt better. Let’s go! Argh! Out of the room we went and on to the ice. We were ready!
It was a great game. Tight checking, great goaltending, incredible shot blocking and defence from our side. We lost 3-2 with the deciding goal coming on slapshot from centre ice to the bottom corner. Our guy never saw it.