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.
Just when we thought we’d been put through an unmatchable emotional wringer with the Boys in their first round series, they messed with our frail hockey parent nerves again in round two. We all knew going in it would be an uphill battle, having to upset the second place team on the heels of having ousted the first, but we were hopeful the Boys would ride the wave of momentum they’d created.
Unfortunately, what we ended up watching in game one could only best be described as a sh*t show. The previous series, which had only ended two days earlier, had drained the kids (much as it had us watching in the stands) both emotionally and physically. They surrendered a goal on the very first shift and the match went downhill from there with the scoreboard showing a 4-1 deficit heading into the third period. Then the fun really started as an over-zealous referee decided to put his mark on an already lopsided affair. Now I don’t want to sound like one of those biased hockey dads, but there is simply something unfair about spending 12 of the 15 minutes of a period on the penalty kill, with the majority of it being two men down. I believe the final tally was 34 minutes in penalties for the visitors to six for the home team. What was particularly frustrating was watching our Captain trying to get clarity from the head ref on why a couple of the questionable calls were being made and being demonstratively rebuffed. He further refused to even speak with the head coach who likewise wanted to have calls explained. This particular referee was going to do what he was going to do without question. The bench did what they could to try to keep the Boys’ emotions in check, but their frustration got the best of them and one was ejected from the game for what were likely unsavoury comments. Another was tossed after he took a hit to the head and retaliated with his stick. Just after the game we would find out his penalty would escalate into a four game suspension; thereby removing an important component from our side who were already underdogs. To put the cherry on this mess, the goaltender took a pretty good slash up around the neck during a scrum in the crease late in the third period prompting a visit from the team trainer aka our hockey Momma. Her attempts to get the ref to acknowledge the flagrant foul likewise went unheeded as he stood at centre ice with his arms firmly crossed. She was able to grab the ear of a linesman who actually sympathized with her saying, “This guy shouldn’t even be reffing at this level,” a damning comment to be sure. After all the drama the game ended with the Boys on the wrong side of a 6-1 drubbing, but the officiating was so bad it almost lessened the sting. The Boys did not play well and would have lost the game, but I thought the third period simply fanned the flames of their determination. Surely they would bounce back with a better effort in game two.
I was not able to attend the second game as it coincided with playoff game for the Devil. However, I was told the team indeed turned in a much better effort, though they would find themselves behind two games to none after a 2-0 loss. Pretty much everyone had a feeling the end of the kids’ run was near as it would take three victories to advance. It wasn’t feeling like the tide would turn any time soon.
I was likewise not able to be at game three as the Devil and I had ventured north for a three day weekend tournament, which generated a few stories of its own to maybe be recounted at a later date. So I waited and watched my cell phone with bated breath expecting hockey momma to report less than favourable news. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to hear the Boys were able to grind out a 3-1 win in enemy territory. While faint they had injected some hope back into their quest to advance to the provincial semi-finals.
Game four was played just a couple of nights ago and started out well with the two-goal hero of game three getting the ball rolling with another marker in the first period. But the visitors would bounce back with two goals of their own and would carry a 2-1 lead into the third period. The Boys were 15 minutes away from elimination, hadn’t played a great game to that point and an uneasy feeling made its way into my stomach. The stress induced indigestion would hold firm along with the rivals’ lead until five minutes left in the third when our side managed to bang in a rebound to knot the score at 2-2. A tie would prolong the series, though the opposing side could end it with another tie to reach the magic six point threshold. Little did we know our side had no intention on settling for a tie. As luck, or fate, would have it, my Boy would supply the heroics. He says right before a draw to the left of the rival goaltender he went up to his centreman and said, “Tie him up, I got this,” a conversation I haven’t corroborated with his linemate, but I believe him. The centreman did as he was told and the Boy swooped in from the right wing boards to throw a shot on net; a shot which found its way under the goaltender’s left arm and into the waiting mesh behind him. The home crowd erupted in near disbelief and my pride-filled heart nearly burst from my chest. The series was tied at two games apiece with the deciding game five scheduled a mere 17 hours later back down at the enemy rink.
Could the Boys complete the surprising, amazing comeback? No other team had beaten their counterparts three games in a row all season. We would find out early in game five our guys were more than ready to change that trend. It was their take a quick lead again courtesy of one of their hottest scorers who’d had three goals in the previous two games. He rifled a shot over the right shoulder of the keeper to provide the quick advantage. A couple of minutes later the Boys doubled their lead, the shaky opposing goalie was yanked and the visiting crowd around me was ecstatic. But we all hate two goal leads, particularly in such a pressure-packed game against a tremendous foe who we suspected would not go quietly. Early in the second period the Colts would get the insurance goal we all hoped for. Yet games of this magnitude rarely end easily. In a seeming flashback to game one, the head referee suddenly found his whistle, calling no fewer than five consecutive penalties against our side. The Boys would need to fend off several minutes on the penalty kill, near the end of which they surrendered the first goal against. However, they counted a small win in only giving up the single. The upstart visitors would head into the third period with a still precarious two goal lead. The ice flood between periods gave us all a chance to take a breath and check our unquestionably rising blood pressure. In the third, the ref continued to emphatically blow his whistle, only this time primarily signalling penalties against the home side who probably felt they needed to play more aggressively to survive. Instead, one of the two-man deficits they created provided an opportunity for the underdogs to extend their lead by one; more high-fives and hollers echoed from our end of the rink. The Boys, on the shoulders of an incredible playoff-long performance by their netminder, would successfully protect their three-goal cushion and secure their spot in the next round. The Boy, in his final year of minor hockey, has now risen to the loftiest heights of his personal career thanks to a true team effort. Though I’m pretty sure if you ask any of them, they are far from done their ascent and all have their eyes firmly fixed on a berth in the Finals.
Coincidentally, I am spinning this tale from a seat looking out onto the very ice where the Boys completed their comeback a day ago, as the Devil and her crew prepare for a do or die match on a rink only a few steps away.
Stay tuned hockey fans (and maybe say a wee prayer to the hockey gods)…methinks, nay I know, there is plenty more drama to come.
I’ve said it before, I lived it coaching a “last place” team a little over a year ago and I’ll say it again…playoff hockey is a different beast; all bets are off once ya hit the second season. Case in point this time around is a first round series just completed, which pitted the Devil’s 17-3-2 team (scoring nearly 4 goals per game) vs. their seventh place foes who finished at 9-13. During the season the Sharks had prevailed in the head-to-head series with 4-1 and 5-0 wins along with a 1-1 tie. That tie had, of course, come just before the playoffs began, setting the stage for what we were about to watch.
In game one on home ice, the girls came out decidedly flat skating to 1-1 tie in a series to be determined by the first team to reach 4 points. One point each to start meant at least three games would be required to solve this one. It felt like from where I stood like some confidence had been shaken.
Game two would surely see the girls return to their prior dominant form? But instead, we witnessed a few weak markers for the home side, our goaltender pulled in favour of the day’s backup and a 3-1 deficit going into the final frame. To their credit, the Sharks did fight back countering with three goals in the third for a narrow 4-3 victory. No guarantees for a positive outcome in the third and final game. If the challengers were able to secure a victory in regulation time, the series would actually need to be decided by a 10 minute overtime period. As chance would have it and to further demonstrate the playoff point, the first place team was embroiled in a similar battle of their own vs. #8. The first place squad, who hadn’t lost one game during the entire regular season entered their last match in must-win mode after registering a tie and a loss in their first two.
Off to the third and final match, where the Devil and her mates were finally able to get off to a quick start, taking a 1-0 lead only 20 seconds in. Unfortunately, their advantage would quickly evaporate and turn into another 2-goal deficit as the buzzer sounded to mark the end of the second period. A goaltending change had been made for a second contest in a row. The girls would need to come from behind yet again if they hoped to advance to the next round. Luckily for them and our frayed nerves a 3-3 tie would be enough to move on. And the game would indeed be tied with about six minutes remaining. The keeper, who’d been bailed out by her partner one game earlier, returned the favour by making a few big stops down the stretch. The Sharks would avoid a round one upset, but definitely not without some tense moments.
Bring on round two against a stronger opponent who finished the season just behind our girls in third place and a separate concurrent provincial playdown series against one of only two teams the girls have not beaten yet this year. It won’t get any easier from here on in. That being said, our ladies can move forward and derive confidence knowing they came back from two goals down two games in a row to take the first one. More playoff challenges to come. The unpredictability of it all is a big part of what makes it so much fun.