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.