For the second time in a few weeks, I find myself begrudgingly having to recap a playoff series; only this time the taste is a little more sour as the end of a series marks the almost-end of the Boy’s minor hockey career.
The provincial semi-finals started quickly, just beyond the end of a dramatic three-game comeback by the Boy and his cohorts; a series no doubt mentally, if not physically draining. I would miss game one as I stayed back to escort the Devil to her own provincial playdown game. As chance or bad luck would have it, the Devil’s game would be played in one of the only places on Earth without cell service and so I would have to wait until her game ended to get an update. Just moments after pulling out of the arena parking lot, I noted a faint signal so I pulled over to the side of the road (much to the dismay of the Devil who’d just finished competing in a dramatic game of her own) to see if my Hockey Momma had relayed a recent score. Instead I was greeted by a flurry of messages from one of my bestest friends who actually drove over an hour to catch the game after having acquired the playoff bug by attending two pressure packed games in the previous series. I was pleased to hear the Boys were up by a goal in game one and apparently controlling most of the play. I drove home quickly so I could continue following the game via my loyal texting messenger. For the next hour I was treated to and suffered through updates every 15 to 20 seconds as the game made its way back and forth, up and down the ice as my brother from another mother cursed and clutched his heart as he reported each painful highlight from a distance. All was positive until about 5 minutes left in the third when I saw the omninous word F#@K flash onto my mobile screen. The bad guys tied the game and would shortly thereafter force a 10 minute overtime. I bristled on the end of my phone as a few minutes later the offending four letter word was repeated, thereby signalling a 1-0 series deficit. Upon their return from the game shortly before 1:00 am, Momma reported ours was the better team overall. She said the series was their’s for the taking if the Boys replicated their performance from the two previous series victories, which brought them to this point.
A few days later the home stands were packed and hummed in anticipation of a Colts victory to knot the series at one game apiece. I was personally confident in light of the game one reports I’d received. Game two would see the good guys take a one goal lead early as they had apparently done in the opener. And while the opponents were game, the home side certainly dominated the balance of play. Still the visitors would tie the score at 1-1 just before the end of the second period after a scramble in front of the net. The Colts got a much needed goal to pull ahead in the third and we all held our breaths hoping they could extend or at least protect the lead over the next 10 minutes. As time ticked down under two minutes we all exhaled as the rivals took an ill-timed penalty. They would remove their goaltender moments later and everything seemed to be headed in the right direction. Unfortunately, under the pressure of desperate play from their opponents the home side would take one and then a second penalty of their own. Suddenly, their one man advantage had turned into a two-player deficit. And then, with only 31 seconds left in regulation time, and me perched behind our keeper (which is an admittedly odd place for me to be watching a game) I saw the puck land precariously close to the goal line in behind the scrambling netminder. Sensing the dangerous position of the offending disc, he swung his arm back but touched no frozen rubber. The one or two seconds the puck laid there felt like an eternity. I so wanted to lunge headlong through the plexiglass myself to bat the puck away ahead of the foreign stick I saw poke it over the line to tie the match and send it to another 10 minute overtime; one in which the Boys would have to start with a player still in the penalty box. Luckily, they would weather that mini-storm, but would leave the game down three points to one instead of being tied at two. The next trip to the opposing rink would need to be more fruitful than the first. So far, by all accounts, the Boys had been the “better” team without the record to show for it.
Not surprisingly, it was apparent early on that game three would be another close contest – how could it not. The Colts would have a couple of great scoring chances off the hop, but would not find the back of the net. Instead, the home side would sneak one behind our goalie, which evaded the view of the head referee who was apparently out of position and would need to call on his linesman for confirmation; much to the chagrin of us watching in the stands. More scoring opportunities would come, only to be turned away or narrowly missed. 1-0 would hold up until the 13:40 mark of the final frame, when our keeper would be pulled in favour of an extra skater. The advantage would not be enough as the puck found its way into our empty net, forcing a do or die contest back on home ice.
Game four started only a few hours ago with everyone trying to say all the right things. “You’ve done it before Boys…and you can do it again.” But somehow, for me anyways, there was a more palpable bad feeling around this game borne out of the frustration of having outplayed, but not outlasted, the competition to this point. Many of us sincerely hoped, nay prayed, for another great comeback. Yet knew it would take a monumental effort with only one point to spare through the next three contests. And for a fourth time in as many games, the Colts buzzed around the opposing net with nothing more than shots to show for it. One made scramble and several whacks at close range were somehow stifled by the other side’s large, agile netminder. Instead, and as had become the norm of late, they trailed 1-0 heading into the third period. They were by no means out of it, but assuredly feeling the pressure of being 15 minutes away from elimination. A fellow spectator correctly observed and pointed out, “They need to get a bounce…bang in a dirty goal…just something to get them going.” Yet, the dirty equalizing marker would not come. With six minutes left in the game, a powerplay for the visitors after a questionable tripping penalty would result in a doubling of their one goal lead. Now the series and the season were indeed slipping away. Our young men would continue to battle. Goals would remain elusive. The final buzzer sounded and shortly thereafter I watched a few Boys (and Hockey Momma to be sure) wipe their eyes before entering the series-ending handshake line. Something may have inadvertently found its way into my tear ducts as well. A wonderful, somewhat surprising, playoff run had ended sooner than any of us were ready for; particularly in light of this being the final season for a majority of our lads. Though it ended abruptly, these young men and the older men who led them can be proud of the way they competed and conducted themselves throughout the season. The efforts of all are to be commended.
Yet, I said off the top we marked the almost-end of a minor hockey career. Almost because we’ve been notified there is one more tournament on the horizon. A coincidental affair tied to the Boy’s 18th year of existence. He’ll enter adulthood playing his beloved childhood game in an official minor hockey capacity one last time. Not to say there isn’t likely plenty of hockey in some other capacity in his future, but what more fitting conclusion to this chapter for him and a certain proud hockey dad?