The Sharks continued their strong league play as they faced one of their toughest foes to date a few days ago. Their opponent came into their match undefeated and trailing them in the standings only by virtue of having played fewer games. A quick look at the standings revealed only two goals against in their first five games….a test for our ladies to be sure. Our side was thankfully up to the challenge turning in probably their best performance to date in a rough and tumble affair. The referee for this particular game was someone I had not seen before and I was told he had only just started officiating girls hockey after having spent 10+ years reffing Jr. A boys games. It seemed as the game went on that he may have thought he was still reffing those older lads as his whistle never parted his lips to flag down what were a couple of the biggest hits I’ve seen all year. The girls’ game, of course, does not allow body checking, but this referee was letting pretty much everything go. In facing a slightly larger team, it would not have been surprising to see the Sharks back down. Instead they fought through to a 5-2 win – more than doubling their surprised opponents’ goals against on the year. And so they solidified their early season hold on the number one position in the league with a couple of teams on their tail with games in hand.
The success they had in the league game bode well for an anticipated strong showing in their home tourney, Sharkfest, this weekend. A quick check of their schedule revealed three teams ranked in the middle of their respective divisions; three teams you’d our side would presumably be able to excel against.
However, game one, though closely fought, ended with the Sharks on the short end of a 1-0 loss with the winning goal being scored on a late powerplay; the result of a retaliatory penalty. As is too often the case, one of the Devil’s teammates responded to a punch in the head with a shot of her own. The referee apparently only saw the latter.
In game two the next morning, the girls struck quickly, apparently sensing the need for a victory in a three-game round robin format. They dominated play for the first half of the game, scored two quick goals and carried the two-point cushion into the final frame. Unfortunately, their killer instinct seemed to give way to some lackadaisical play half-way through the second. A goal partway into the third cut the lead to one, which then evaporated to nil when an errant pass in the defensive zone found an opponents stick and the back of the good guys’ goal shortly thereafter. A 2-2 tie would demand a victory in the final match.
Between games two and three, Devil would require a visit to a clinic to check on a wonky, swelled-up knee, which had her hobbling around pretty good. Prospects for her participation in game three, only a few hours later, did not look good. The doc decided there was no major damage; prescribing ice and rest. Three hours later she would wrap it up and suck it up for an hour to help her mates. We’d have been fine had she decided to heed the good physician’s advice, but we followed her lead. Must get her toughness from her Momma.
Unfortunately, the girls would find out just before taking to the ice for their third challenge that even a win would not be enough to advance to the playoff round. The goal for the last skate of the weekend would be to simply salvage a winning record at 1-1-1. But this game would go much the same as the ones before it and end the same way game one did, with a 1-0 score in the wrong direction. This was not the team’s weekend; leaving the coaching staff and a few other onlookers a little bedeviled after having witnessed such an impressive showing only a few days prior. In the squad’s defence, they were two players short; one lost to concussion and the other to a wonky wrist. Further, though they have demonstrated a higher level of play, they did compete in three one-goal games. The goaltenders, as all three scores attest, played very well; more than giving their teammates the opportunity to compete and win.
The team now has four practices to work out some apparent kinks before their next league game. In the grand scheme of things, if you are going to have some stinker games, as the girls collaborated on this weekend, a tournament is the best time to have them. Would have been nice not to do it in the home tournament, but no matter. These games will presumably allow the coaches to reinforce the need to give full effort in each and every game; to not underestimate any opponent. A few hard skating practices are likely in order as well.
I and I think many believe in order to win the big games, you have to lose a few along the way. Champions across all sports have proved this time and time again. Of course last year, my own team took a whole regular season of losing and turned it into a successful playoff run; not that I would necessarily recommend this as a preferred approach.
In a week’s time and thereafter, we’ll see how the Sharks respond to this bit of adversity. Good teams, which this group feels like early on, generally come back with renewed focus and determination. Get focused, get better ladies.