Call me superstitious, but I didn’t even want to talk about the Boy’s first round series until it was over. So here I am, post-game five in the middle of the night with nerves decidedly frayed to provide a synopsis of a hockey series with all the drama you could possibly want or ask for. What’s that you say…NHL hockey is back?
To properly set the scene, we actually have to go back to four game season series, which saw our Boys record nary a win against their first place opponents registering two ties and two losses including a 5-0 drubbing in a particularly forgettable match just before Christmas. They would enter the series as the 4th place underdogs who backed into the playoffs with a less than stellar final four games. The odds were certainly stacked against them, but playoff hockey, as though of us who have been watching for years on end know, is a whole different ballgame.
And so the Boys embarked on their uphill battle a little over a week ago. As mentioned in a pre-series post, the one thing they did have in their favour was the return of a couple of players from the sick bay. The Boys would face their nemesis with the closest thing they’d have to a full roster all year – minus one defender and their second goaltender, who incurred injuries of their own in the final weeks of the regular season.
The opponents with the better record would naturally have home ice advantage so game one was in enemy territory. Our side was quick to let the home team know they were ready to play taking a 1-0 and then 2-0 lead. The first place foes would battle back, but would never catch up in a game ending with a 4-2 score.
Cue up game two back on our home turf, where again our Boys jumped out to a 1-0 lead. This match would be more of a back and forth affair with a fair bit more physicality than its predecessor – the teams were starting to develop a palpable “dislike” for each other with each goal scored and the ensuing taunt-filled celebrations to follow. The hoots and hollers of the still-teenage boys on the ice were echoed by parents and siblings in the stands. Near the end of game two with the scored knotted at two, the visitors were called for a rare “concealing the puck” penalty when one of their players fell on and apparently covered the puck with his gloved-hand. The Colts struggling powerplay was not able to do much with the man advantage until the final 30 seconds when they mounted some pressure, putting a couple of shots on net. One such shot found its way to a waiting stick and then into the back of the net with only 10 seconds showing on the clock. The underdogs would suddenly have a stranglehold on the series where the first team to 6 points (with 2 points awarded to each win) would advance to the next round.
An unfortunate aspect of minor hockey, as has been documented on more than one occasion, is the effect it can have on some otherwise friendly people. Case in point was the reaction taken by an opposing father, who I know quite well, following game two. He quite literally lost his mind as he walked, or rather stormed, by me on his way out of the arena. I stood mouth agape as he seemingly blamed me and suggested I should be ashamed for the questionable calls the referees had just made thereby influencing his team’s demise (referees, which by the way, were from a different jurisdiction as per provincial hockey rules). I was hopeful he would see the error of his ways and extend an apology as the series went on, but alas none has been forthcoming. I admittedly have not gone looking for one, nor do I intend to.
Back to hockey were the Colts held a commanding series lead, though you had to know the first place team did not get there without putting up a fight and would not go quietly. A good ole fashioned Canadian snowstorm cancelled game three and forced it to be moved to the game four slot back on our home ice, giving the good guys a bit of an advantage. However, as expected, the opponents came on strong; particularly their goaltender, who backstopped a shutout in what would be a 1-0 victory and forcing a game four in their home rink.
Our Boys would have a second opportunity to put the series to rest. I would miss this game with the Devil playing game two of her own series at precisely the same time at a rink over an hour away. Momma and I would have to anxiously follow each series via text…which was particularly stressful as the Boys skated to 1-1 tie in regulation forcing a 10 minute overtime. I waited and waited almost not wanting to see the next text message. When the tone announced its arrival, I looked through my fingers to see an unfavourable final score of 2-1 for the bad guys. This series would need to go to a game five for all the marbles. Because of the snow cancellation, the first placers would get back-to-back games in their rinks.
Which brought us back to the unfriendly confines just a few hours ago with uneasy feelings in at least a few stomachs on both sides I dare say. After dropping Momma and da Boy at the arena, I would catch up with her a half an hour before game time where she would report the Boy was engaging in torrid pre-game pacing. We was up and down checking on the status of a Novice game several times, where normally he would not leave the dressing room. In the lobby, you could just feel everyone’s communal anxiety mounting. Unfortunately, the first period would do nothing to quell said anxiety as it was the home side’s turn to build a 1-0 then 2-0 lead. Things were not looking good for the underdogs. The Colts would cut the lead by one in the second period on something of a flukey goal as their goalie misplayed a puck passed from the other end of the ice and chased down by one of our forwards. The errant disk somehow found its way under a sprawling keeper and just across the goal line.
All that was left was a third period and potentially overtime should our Boys be fortunate enough to at least tie the game at 2s. The opponents would try to go into a defensive shell and protect their lead, however, this tactic fell short within minutes as the Colts were in fact able to knot the score. A few minutes later, with their own anxiety apparently mounting, the favourites took an ill advised 4 minute penalty as one of them tried to decapitate da Boy, who ended up with a nice war wound for his efforts. Shortly thereafter they would be assessed another 2 minute minor for boarding, creating a 5 on 3 powerplay opportunity for the good guys. The comeback would be completed a minute and a half into the two-man advantage as a late addition to the team poked in the go-ahead goal. The next 6 minutes would be nothing short of psychological hell as our lads battled through an onslaught from the home team, which included a powerplay of their own and a brief 6 on 4 situation with their goalie pulled in favour of an extra attacker. The goaltending display put on by our young man between the pipes in the last 90 seconds was nothing short of spectacular. He found a way of trapping or simply getting in front of pucks he had no business of stopping. Momma on the Boys’ bench reportedly squealed at every shot, whether it hit the net or not, to the annoyance of a few of her bench-mates I’m told (like they weren’t stressed out enough already). The charges in front of the goaler did all they could to answer the uneven pressure and with 20 seconds left were able to clear the defensive zone. One last rush was met head on at the blue line just before the buzzer mercifully sounded to put an end to the torture. The visiting stands erupted. I fumbled with my phone, hardly able to announce the victory to the world “Colts win, Colts win, Colts freaking win…” After the game, just outside the dressing room it felt very much like a pro hockey atmosphere, complete with post-game interviews, which have already made their way to the local news.
And so now, of course, we get to do this all over again as the Boys move on to the next round against an equally challenging foe, who happened to finish second overall during the regular season. Thankfully, we (and by we I mean us tattered parents) likely have a few days to recoup before series two begins. Oh no wait, the Devil is in a do or die series of her own with the next game in only a couple of days…and that’s all I will say about that……call me superstitious.