Ice Hockey – The Tournament: Part Two

That feeling that you’re being counted on, it’s why I love team sports. Instead of “Maybe I’ll destroy everyone today”, you wake up thinking “Maybe I’ll save the day today”. It’s much more pleasant, and it makes it easy to hop out of bed and be energetic.

My old man Joe and I drove to the game together on Saturday morning. As we walked into the arena and over to our dressing room, we caught a glimpse of one of the tournament games that had started earlier.

“Are those guys in our tourney?” my dad asked.

“I think so.”

“Are any of them over 30?”

“It would appear… no. You can handle it though.”

Still, there was a sense of uneasiness I hadn’t seen in my father before.

It was all momentarily behind us as we walked into the room and saw the jerseys all hung around under our name placards. Welcome to the big leagues.

As the first game started, the intensity outmatched any hockey I’d played in years, and our team held its own. We were down heading into the third, but showed our resiliency to come back and end the game a tie.

Our emotions remained on keel.

Under the format, the implications were simple: for our 2nd game, if we win we stay alive to play in the semi’s Sunday afternoon, if we lose we’re back at the rink at 8:30am for a consolation game. We were playing for our right to party with reckless abandon.

Our opponents clearly knew what was on the line, this game had an edge to it that quickly turned violent. It was a non-contact tournament, but bodies were thrown about, sacrifices were made, and a lot of penalties were called – all of the ones against us were bad calls.

Honestly, we played about 6 minutes of the game defending 5-on-3 penalty kills. Our fans must have thought we were barbarians.

Despite the parade to the penalty box we kept it tight, but still entered the third period down a score.

Our Coach, stalking the bench behind us, looked up and down the row of players.

“What are you doing out there? Look at yourselves. I mean really look at yourselves! Jamie, look at Sean. Does Sean look like the kind of who wants to wake up at 8am tomorrow? Get it together out there, let’s tighten it up and then enjoy our night!”

At the start of the third it looked like a storm cloud of black and yellow had overtaken the ice; we would not be defeated. We kept up our torrid pace, both around our opponents net and lining up for the penalty box, but we did it. 5-4 and no game until tomorrow afternoon.

This isn’t a website about brotherhood, solidarity, booties or Whitby’s nightlife, so we’ll pick the story back up Sunday afternoon.

2pm was still a painful time for many of our members, but almost all of us made it to the rink.

This time we were facing our most talented opponent yet, and the pace was quick.

We went down early but came back with some nice plays. One of my teammates, Matt, came around our net and hit me at the far blueline with a perfect 80 foot pass that had me alone with the goalie. Unfortunately, I just tipped the puck off my stick and into the goalie’s possession. “Never give up on a play!” I heard every coach ever say in the back of my mind. As the goalie went to play the puck, he shot it to my left – So I dove, caught the puck, and as I slid by him shot the puck into his empty net. Sucker!

Moments later, we’re down 2-1 when Papa Millage lays out one of our opponents, and carries the momentum shift to the scoreboard. He takes the puck at centre, channels Scotty Niedermayer, dances over the blueline and lets a rocket go that handcuffs the goalie and evens the score at two-a-piece.

But heading into the final moments of the game, we still found ourselves down 4-2.

At the whistle, our coach speaks up:

“Boys, were going to have to shorten the bench, we’ll just go with two D-men for the last couple minutes”

My dad agrees, “Coach, you’re right, I need the rest anyways.”

“Nope, Joe, I need you and Paul on defense. Matt, you play centre. Wingers – well, who cares.”

Our first break into our opponent’s zone, Sean carries it wide and throws me a perfect pass in front – I am denied on the tip. The play carries on, and as I circle around behind the net, I see the puck squeak loose behind the goalie off someone else’s shot. I dive and reach around the net, and tuck the puck in, either just before a defender swatted it away or just before one of my teammates got credited with the goal.

Our coach calls a timeout – there’s still a minute left, and we’re only down by one.

With catch our breath and head back out to centre ice.

Off the draw we dump the puck in and as they go to clear it up the right side boards, its Scott Niedermayer, aka Joe, at it again. He keeps the puck in and the play alive.

I grab it behind the net and throw it out front to Joe for the one timer. The pass misses him completely, but the puck carries on right to Sean’s stick, who wires one from the slot and ties one of the most dramatic hockey games of all time. Seriously.

After that, well, I’ve blocked the final 20 seconds of that game from my memory. I imagine I took the puck from centre, went in, faked high gloved side and shot it low blocker to win the game with only a couple of seconds left. It probably looked pretty amazing.