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.