The Sharks put up a heroic effort and battled hard down the stretch with a skeleton crew in an attempt to advance to our Provincial Championships. After the last game of our first round league playoff series we were reduced to 12 skaters, 1 goalie and no coach as I was resigned to catch the first game of our double round-robin competition from up in the stands.
The first two games would pit us against the number one team in our regular league, though they apparently had some challenges of their own icing only 13 skaters and likewise a lone goalie. Game one was a tight affair which saw the two teams battle to a 1-1 tie through two periods. I didn’t particularly enjoy my banished viewpoint, but did what I could to urge the team on as a mere spectator. I was pleased to have one of my players say all she could hear during the match was me yelling down at them; though I’m not sure whether that was a good or bad thing. In this particular game I shouted our embattled keepers name quite a few times as she turned in several saves to the spectacular variety – a much-needed boost for our undermanned bunch. The game remained close through the final frame and ended knotted at 1, which was something of a victory for we, the underdogs.
Game two was only two days later and we again took to the ice down three players and an injured goaltender. It would take another big effort from those players who remained to give us a chance to stick with our competitor. This time I would regain my spot back behind the bench where I could feel a little more in control; though I may or may not have been. This match would again be closely fought, with our side being the first to find the back of the net. Meanwhile, the front of their net was something of a battlefield as their goalie (previously known to be somewhat erratic) made like a lumberjack with our players’ legs being her trees. I implored the referee to pay attention, but my exhortations were met with disdain as he suggested he would keep an eye on my players as well. With this game also deadlock at ones, my pleading finally paid off as the ref whistled down one of her whacks with less than two minutes left. Those last couple of minutes saw us get out chances to pull out a win with the puck narrowly skipping past the post on at least two occasions. While the W would have served us better, we were pleased with back-to-back pushes against the tough competition.
We’d have to wait a week to finish the back half of our double dip qualifier, during which time our task would be set for us. Our first foe would mount two victories against our next by a combined difference of 4 goals meaning we would have to also secure two of our own with a five-goal differential in order to advance. A relatively tall order for a short-handed squad for which scoring during the season had been at a premium, which also happened to be missing 3 of its top 4 scorers to aforementioned injuries or suspensions.
The game three direction to our 12 skaters was simple, “Shoot the puck early and often.” The message was heeded and our girls jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead, which ballooned to 2, then 3, then four before the final buzzer rung. In our end, few if any shots found their way to our net. Almost surprisingly, the four goal deficit we were up against was erased in just one game. That being said, moving on would require another dominant effort; one which would be complicated by the loss of yet two more skaters to a pre-planned trip to the tropics and yet one more injury (a dislocated shoulder suffered, but not succumbed to, by one tough young player in the second period).
The last match of the double round robin would pit our 10 skaters and a goalie against the same from the other side. We all knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I felt a little more comfortable than I had the game prior on the strength and quality of the win there. I quipped to my assistant coach that the Hockey Gods were really gonna make us earn this one. And so they did as we fell behind early on a good shot fired from just inside the face off circle to the right of our keeper, which found its way under the crossbar. We’d even the score before the end of the 2nd period, however would fall behind again 2-1 heading into the third and possibly final frame….of the season. Before our girls headed back onto the ice I asked them to give it their all for three of their teammates in particular who were on the verge of the end of their minor hockey careers…and a memory of the Boy’s last game flashed through my mind’s eye.
Our depleted troops were sucking serious wind, but were still game and giving everything they had to try to even the score. Unfortunately, time and again their shots were blocked or simply did not find their target. Our net was emptied in a last ditch effort with less than two minutes left on the clock and subsequently….in the season. Their keeper continued to turn our advances away until the buzzer sounded causing 10 skaters, 2 goalies, 4 unwilling non-participants, 4 bench staff and a bunch of disappointed parents/fans to simultaneously lower their heads in some disbelief. We only needed a one-goal victory to reach our provincial championship tourney aspirations; just a little more than our exhausted group could muster…and certainly not for a lack of guts or hard work. Kudos to our foils who took and fulfilled their no doubt coveted role as spoiler.
Post game was somewhat uncomfortable as no one, including yours truly, could quite come to grips with the loss and the suddenness of THE END.
We do still have a bunch of practice ice left, half of which is scheduled during March Break, so attendance by a bunch of teenage girls is expected to be thin at best (I can already report having only 5 and 4 skaters in the first two post-season sessions which have both turned into a lot of shooting practice). I’ve been asked if we can schedule a couple of exhibition games, but I’m not sure we have enough healthy or willing players to ice a proper squad.
And so, we will play out the next couple weeks, take a month’s break, then head right back into tryouts for next season – the final of the Devil’s career. Of course, the Devil herself may actually forego her final tryouts if the two bits of her fibula do not find their way back together in time. Guess she can consider herself lucky as the coach of her desired team is not “likely” to cut her sight unseen. Then again, ya never know, I hear he can be heartless.