Playoff Hockey Highs and Lows
In fairly stark contrast to my last entry, I am going to take less pleasure in recounting the Devil’s second round playoff series.
However, before that series started the Sharks made their way a few hours north for a “tune-up” tournament. A three-team tournament with two of the teams classified at a level above our girls. None of us were quite sure what to expect. We knew our ladies had competed at the highest level in their own division for a good part of the season, though not so much at the tail end or in their first round playoff series having barely survived to see round two. This mini-tourney could be a potentially good or bad thing. For the first two periods of the first game it felt like the latter. The girls were out-skated and out-battled for pretty much every puck. A conservative shot clock dually managed by the scorekeeper indicated only a couple of shots on net having been registered. It seemingly took until the third period for the girls to realize they could skate with this team or maybe some just needed to work off the rust of a 3+ hour drive. Either way, the game would end with ours on the wrong side of a 2-0 score, much of the credit for which could be attributed to solid goaltending.
We would see how the rest of the team would respond the following morning when they would take on the home squad. Game two felt closer, similarly had some strong goaltending, but lacked scoring punch from the visitors and ended 3-0 for the home side.
The Sharks would only have a couple of hours to recover and prepare for a rematch with their game one opponent. Advancing to the Finals of this tourney was a longshot with an 0-2 record to start, so I think we all just hoped for at least a better effort since they now knew they could compete. What we got was a complete turnaround and a mark of revenge as the girls brought their A game (pun fully intended) against dumbfounded opponents. This time around our girls were the aggressors, out-skating and out-battling their latest rivals on their way to a 2-1 victory. They would need help from the keeper again, particularly down the stretch, but they were full measure for the win and pretty pleased with themselves.
Being a mini-tourney, they actually had a slim chance to move on to the Finals with a four-goal win. They would get to sleep on it and take on their hosts again in the morning. They would sleep and parents would do “hockey-parents-at-overnight-tournament” things, which I will leave at that.
Suffice it to say, the morning came earlier and more abruptly than anyone wanted it to. We got to the rink only to find out we could have slept a little longer as someone forgot to tell the rink rat to open the joint on time. After an hour delay, game four got underway and the Sharks battled hard again. They weren’t able to secure the multi-goal victory they needed, but represented themselves well in a 0-0 draw. With an overall strong showing in the Near North, we returned home with the next playoffs series just around the corner.
Two nights later our ladies, second-place finishers from the regular season, would face-off at home against number three. During the regular season, the Sharks were able to win three times in three tries, though everyone knew their opponents were not a team to be taken lightly. Nor were they, as our side came out strong in the first match of this four-point series. They held the balance of play for much of the game and had several scoring chances. Unfortunately, all but one of those remained chances and not goals. The visitors were able to find the back of the net twice making game two a must win on the road. Post-game, I heard someone question if perhaps the girls were still a little tired from having played four games over three days during the weekend just past. Maybe a little emotionally if not physically fatigued. Regardless, they would need to come back fresh to avoid elimination.
I hoped lightning would strike twice for my kids as we coincidentally and almost fatefully returned to the scene of the Boy’s team’s successful series two capper only one day prior. Surely the girls would be able to summon the strength and bounces to pull their series even at one game apiece. Again, early on they were the stronger team recording several chances (there’s that word again) to score. Their four-goal per game pace from the early regular season was not being sustained. They entered the third period 2-1, but it still felt like a comeback was within reach. They just needed to bury a few of the opportunities they were generating. The game would indeed be knotted at two about halfway through the final frame giving everyone on our side of the glass a little hope. Hope only to be dashed a few minutes later as one of the bad guys found some open ice and fired a shot past our keeper. The same keeper was pulled from her goal with under 90 seconds left in favour of an extra attacker. But the empty net drew the attention of one more home marker. And just like that the playoff run was over. It almost didn’t seem real and certainly not fair based on the regular season success the girls had enjoyed. The only silver lining was finding out one of the Devil’s mates was credited with her first goal of the season; something she and her hockey dad had been waiting far too long for. Yet, I’m sure this was a weak consolation in light of the surprisingly quick playoff exit.
The team does have an opportunity to exact a measure of vindication with provincial playdowns still underway. They’ll need to put their disappointment behind them and focus anew on their secondary goal.
I am hopeful of being able to report more playoff highs than lows in the coming weeks for the Boy and the Devil, though either way games will be won or lost and lessons will no doubt be learned.