The Devil and her Shark teammates rolled into the Nation’s capital this past weekend for our provincial championships with high hopes based on a successful regular season, but likewise some trepidation following an unflattering early exit from their league playoffs. Adding to the concern was the fact the girls had not played a meaningful game since qualifying for this provincial tournament over a month ago. There were a bunch of practices, an exhibition game against one of their provincial opponents and a fun parents/siblings vs. the Sharks game, but nothing to prepare them again for real competition. But they had played some great hockey earlier in the year and perhaps they could regain their icy mojo.
So we packed up the van for the second time in a few weeks, made a traditional pit stop at Timmies to load up on caffeine and Timbits and then hit the road for 4+ hour scenic drive on a long overdue warm spring morning.
This hockey trip started off on a pretty good foot as I found out before I left I had lucked into some tickets for a game between Canada and Finland at the World Women’s Hockey Championships, which were also being held in Ottawa over the weekend courtesy of a fortuitous tweet from Club Hockey Canada. My other life as an online marketing geek was coming in handy. We had wanted to go to the game and were offered tickets a few weeks prior, but found the prices a little dear with the games being played nearly an hour from our hotel. But free tickets were gladly welcomed. When we arrived at our hotel I was pleasantly surprised to not find just a couple, but in fact, 8 tickets to the game being played on our second night in town.
After a quick check-in, we headed to the rink for the Devil’s first game. Another bonus to this tournament was its location as all of our sides games would be played at the alma mater of both Hockey Momma and yours truly.
Returning to the scene of our “glory days” would surely resurrect some misty remembrances in both of us. As it turns out, the hockey rink our girls would be playing in did not even exist when we went to school there some 20+ years ago (as liver spots begin to burst onto my hands and my aging neck starts to stiffen). Indeed, driving onto the campus brought back a flood of memories of both a clear and somewhat foggy variety. The Devil would have to endure our recollections of “when we were here” for three straight days.
But back to game one, where the Sharks would face a team they should be able to handle based on their comparative records. Unfortunately, our side came out a little flat (which is not recommended in a short round robin schedule)….for two periods and would trail by a score of 2-0 heading into the third. They would pick up steam and the Devil would pick up a goal to cut the lead to one, but this would be all they could muster. In the final minute a great shot would ring off the post and the Devil would launch a shot which found its way between the opposing keepers pads, but not quite across the line. Game one would end 2-1 in the wrong direction forcing a must win or at least tie in the next contest. A curfew was set by the coach and all players were expected to come to the rink bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.
Of course, as with any away tournament, the hotel always has a central role to play in the weekend plot. In this case, the hotel’s role was one of antagonist as the Inn did not offer the Comfort it’s name suggested. The first offense being a quite loud buzzing noise coming from somewhere in or around our room. A fellow hockey dad/HVAC specialist would later help the night manager discover and temporarily correct said buzzing by slamming his fist on an electrical panel. Crude, but effective. Strike two came in the form of a much less than comfortable pull-out sofa, which I was quickly directed to by the Devil and her mother when we first entered our luxurious accommodations. Suffice it to say, I was certainly glad for being short in stature on this particular occasion. A larger man would have had a even more restless sleep than I; even with the assistance of a few hockey dad libations. The third and final nail in the two-storey motel’s coffin was a distinct lack of hot water for showers when we woke up the first morning. Apparently, this hotel did not anticipate having more than three people wanting to maintain their personal hygiene within the same one hour period. There have been a couple of occasions on hockey trips where a cold shower was warranted, but this was not one of them. This was not a good start to the team’s second tournament day.
Game two would, of course, be against stiffer competition meaning the Sharks would need to step up their effort from the previous match. Maybe the cold showers would serve to wake up those who braved them. Indeed they did skate harder for the balance of this important game. However, for a second consecutive game they would have a tough time finding the back of the net, while the solid opponents managed to bulge the twine three times. Hopes of advancing to the next round were all too quickly dashed. Game three would simply be played for pride and perhaps a chance to spoil another team’s chances (which is sometimes a small consolation).
With the gravity of game three lessened, the curfew was lifted and the Devil chose four teammates to join us at the Team Canada hockey game. Our one extra ticket went to an equally fortunate Canada (Joe from Oakville, an apparent superfan and friend of former Team Canada member Jennifer Botterill, decked out in a Team Canada jersey) who was flabbergasted when I handed it to him just before he was about to line up to buy one. A good hockey deed I am hoping doesn’t go unnoticed and gains me some favour with the Hockey Gods at some point down the road. The Provincial Championships and World Women’s Championships being in the same city at the same time was no coincidence as it seemed players from nearly every team in the province were at the Friday night match at Scotiabank Place. In fact, our little group was part of something historic as the crowd of 18,103 represented the largest ever to attend a women’s hockey game. A great sign for the sport moving forward. The relatively young crowd was vibrant and electric, cheering the Canadians on to an unsurprising 8-0 drubbing of the overmatched Finns. It was a great experience for our young ladies and I am indebted to Club Hockey Canada for making it happen. The unfortunate postscript being a 3-2 Canadian loss to their nemesis from the USA in the Gold Medal game a few days later. Yup, even the best in the world have their off games when expectations are high.
Not too many were early to bed in advance of game three, but we were still hopeful their pride would kick in and allow them to pull out a victory to end their season on a relatively positive note. We had beaten the same team 4-2 in an exhibition game only a week earlier, so we all knew our girls could play with them. Yet, our opponents in this game had a little more to play for as a win would secure them a spot in the next round. The match was tightly contested with a scrammbly marker registered by the bad guys mid-way through the second period. As had become par for the tournament, the Sharks offence sputtered though they had several chances turned away by a hot goaltender who made some great saves. As the game and season wound down under 90 seconds, the coach pulled his goalie in favour of an extra attacker. Shortly thereafter a puck was innocently lifted out of the opponent’s end, propped up on its edge and curled its way into the Sharks unprotected net. Make the final score of the final game in the 2012-2013 season 2-0.
Following the match, no one seemed too dismayed as their ultimate tournament fate had been realized the previous afternoon. Out in the parking lot an end of season team photo was snapped. Congratulations were given on an overall positive season. Cards and parting gifts were handed out. For one player, #18 who coincidentally turned 18 on this very day, this final game marked an end to her minor hockey career complete with the emotion we experienced with the Boy a couple of weeks back. She was presented with a jersey signed by all the players and a few appeared to have something irritating their eyes. Players, coaching staff and parents shook hands. Thankyou’s, goodbyes and good lucks were exchanged. Because, don’t ya know, the beginning of the tryouts for next season are less than a week away when friends and teammates will become rivals and competitors. I, in fact, know all too well as the joy and stress of a head coaching gig are calling my name.
The trip ended with a quick campus walk to rekindle a few more memories and then long overdue visits with a couple of close friends Momma and I had not seen in far, far too long (like we needed more reminders of how quickly time flies). As usual, a hockey tournament provided the backdrop for a much larger and significantly richer life experience to all of our personal benefits.
Next up: Tryouts aka The Coach’s Week from Hell. Stayed tuned for what is sure to be an interesting ride.