With Round 2 of the NHL Playoffs coming to a dramatic close last night, my first contest ended right along with it. This evening, in a random draw from within the bowels of an old bucket, a single name was chosen as the deserving recipient of a much coveted prize pak courtesy Enterprise Rent-a-Car, an official sponsor of the NHL and its teams. Here’s a quick vid of the exciting ceremony.
So congrats to Kevin Francisco. I will grab your mailing address and have the prize pak delivered shortly. For those who are interested, here is the memory he shared (with apologies to Leafs fans, who are likely still stinging from their unbelievable playoff exit this year):
“Obviously its the ’93 Habs playoff run that sticks out in my mind. Not only do you have the Leafs & Habs going deep into the playoffs… you have Gretzky’s no call high stick on Gilmore & his final appearance in the finals. The biggest part of that Hab playoff run was the unbelievable run of OT victories. The Que/Mtl series was one of the best ever with the Habs taking 4 straight after dropping the first two games (2 in OT)… then taking out the hated Sabres in a 4 game sweep where all games finished 4-3 Mtl (3 in OT). 2 more OT victories vs NYI brought them an 11 game win streak before losing game 4. I couldnt believe how awesome this playoff run was going with Roy stealing games all over the place! I was actually looking forward to a Mtl/Tor final (how awesome would that have been?!), but had to settle for watching them beat Gretzky & Co in the finals with another fantastic 3 OT wins. 10 OT wins en route to Cup 24!! Too bad they havent won one since – but that was just such a ridiculous string of OT wins, it has to be one of the best playoff runs in history.”
This was just one of many great playoff stories I was very impressed and appreciative to receive over the last couple of weeks all of which you can find in the comments of my contest blog, should you be so inclined. Thank you again to all who entered.
Now off we go to the third round series pitting Bruins against Pens and Hawks against defending champion Kings. Both certainly look to have the makings of hard fought, tight scoring classics. I must admit, I’ve been riveted to most every game this playoff season regardless the combatants. Perhaps the shortened regular season has enabled me and many like me to maintain our attention longer, though with 25+ degree temps in the forecast, it may become more and more difficult, but we’ll see. Pretty sure the hockey won’t disappoint.
For me the night started kinda slow. In an odd circumstance, I found myself sitting alone (well almost alone save for good ole man’s best friend) and switching back and forth between two games: the Boston Bruins vs. the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round of the NHL Eastern Conference playoffs and my hometown Barrie Colts vs. the London Knights in the OHL Finals; and yes, both playing game 7s. One more game 7 was also in progress between the Rangers and Caps, but my ability and willingness to focus across three channels was limited at best. My unfamiliar solitude was due to:
- Hockey Momma fulfilling secretarial duties at our local minor hockey league board meeting, which begs the question..Who holds a meeting during a Game 7?
- the Boy risking his life cheering for the Bruins in a predominantly Maple Leafs-friendly Buffalo Wild Wing. He told me as he left to watch for a text message should the score be headed in a non-Leaf direction and he had no idea how prophetic that statement would be.
- the Devil begrudgingly performing in a school dance recital; a minor commitment she suggested she could “ditch” in favour of watching the pivotal playoff games. You can easily guess who won that school vs. hockey argument, though she made a pretty strong case to her hockey-luvin dad.
So poochie and I enjoyed each other’s company and cheered or booed as the four teams in our two primary games worked their way through their first periods with 1-1 results in each. Game 7s are generally pretty tight contests as neither team is willing to play a wide open game or risk making mistakes; mistakes which could mean vacations at their favourite golf courses.
However, towards the end of the first period in the NHL affair, I answered my ringing phone and was greeted by the desperate voice of one of Hockey Momma’s co-workers. On my way home from work earlier in the day, I was forced to take a detour as my primary route was closed due to a downed hydro pole. It seems the crippled pole was now responsible for power outages in the homes of hundreds or perhaps thousands of rabid hockey fans all around me. The first strike by the Hockey Gods perhaps? Regardless, I naturally offered to share my den and television; the only problem being my new viewing mates were all Leafs fans – then again this never mattered before so why should it now. Shortly after this family of Leaf-lover arrived, they were followed by a Bruins fan to even up the vibe in the house. And just like that, I was hosting a min-playoff party, conveniently equipped by Enterprise Rent-a-Car, a sponsor of the NHL and all of its teams, I might add (more on that below).
Shortly after my impromptu party mates arrival, both games started to get interesting as the bad guys from my humble perspective each scored goals to give them 2-1 leads, which they would take into their respective third periods. Third periods we shant soon forget.
In London, the Colts, missing three of their top forwards, continue to battle tooth and nail squaring the score at 2-2 with just under three minutes left in the third. This Game 7 was most assuredly going to overtime as the clock ticked under one minute then under 30 seconds. But then on a literally last second drive to the net, the puck inexplicably found its way up, over and behind the Colts keeper, who swung at it wildly and knocked it away from the net. The on-ice official waved no-goal, but with 1.1 seconds left on the clock, there would be a video review. Fingers were firmly crossed and quick prayers were issued to the aforementioned Hockey Gods. However, video from an overhead camera told a sad story as we saw the puck float through the air and over the goal line. We waited and hoped our eyes deceived us and the TV commentators. No such luck and the Knights completed a comeback from 3-1 in the series to win the OHL Championship in the absolutely last possible moment of regulation time. Maybe the Colts would have completed the comeback in the game had the buzzer sounded one second sooner or maybe not. One Game 7 ended in despair.
Meanwhile, back in Boston, more inexplicable action ensued as the Leafs proceeded to open up 3-1 and then 4-1 leads with only 15 minutes left in the third. Could it be that the upstart Leafs would serve up a major upset in the first round and send the Bruins packing, much to my dismay? Hockey Momma had returned from her meeting and the Devil from her recital by now. The Boy’s bar safety appeared secure. On TV, you could see some of the less-faithful Bruins fans themselves leaving the building. The Bruins would score with just over 10 minutes left in the game, but a two goal deficit was surely too big to overcome; even for the hardluck Leafs whose ineptitude dates back to the year before I was born. With it being 9:30 on a school night, our friends having younger kids, the game in hand and power apparently restored to their home, the Leaf fans decided to take their leave. As they walked out, I quipped “We’ll have to get together to watch the Leafs play the Rangers in the next round (also to besponsored by Enterprise Rent-a-Car as part of a NHL Playoff giveaway contest).” The Rangers and King Henrik Lundqvist, in the other game 7 were embarrassing the Caps 5-0 in their own rink.
Then the Hockey Gods flexed their muscles and changed the course of history in Boston. The veteran Bruins woke up somewhere around the 15 minute mark of the third, putting sustained pressure on the less experienced Leafs who were trying desperately to hold on to their tenuous two-goal lead. The Bruins, as per standard procedure, pulled their goalie with about two minutes left. A shot from the point with 1:22 on the clock found its way by the Bruins towering defenceman, Zdeno Chara, who installed himself as an immovable fixture in front of the Toronto goal and also by the Leafs’ defenceless keeper. A mere 16 seconds later the Bruins would bury the most incredible Game 7 tying goal in history. With momentum decidedly and understandably on their side, the Bostons (with a few missing fans who were no doubt banging their heads against walls somewhere) completed the biggest comeback ever with a now-anticipated goal in OT; leaving Leafs fans everywhere standing, sitting or lying drop-jawed and numb as the realization of another playoff failure struck them like a bolt of lightning hurled at them by you know who. At my house, we erupted from the couch in awestruck amazement and at Buffalo Wild Wing, da Boy, my progeny, ran and high-fived the few other Boston fans in the joint at the risk of physical peril.
Once the jubilation subsided, I admittedly found myself feeling a touch of sympathy for the Leaf fans, many of whom are my close friends; who sat expectantly in front of their TVs on the verge of heart attacks or who crammed themselves among thousands just outside the Air Canada Centre in Toronto; only to be let down yet again. This morning the feeling returned as I read a great article in Deadspin about the risks of raising your child as a Leafs fan entitled “This Is How Hockey Hurts“. Perhaps I should send the link to my viewing mates, who still have a chance to reprogram their young Leaf fan. Everyone says you need to lose, before you can win, but this was one helluva way to lose. I think a lot of people would have preferred they succumbed to the Big Bad Bruins in Game 6. Or maybe not. I can’t really say, not being a Leaf fan. I can tell you, I’d take a Game 7, win or lose, as a Jets fan.
Just like that, in a matter of a few hours, I’ve yet two more fantastic and not-so-fantastic memories of playoff hockey. Some of those young OHLers were distraught last night, but have plenty to look forward to. Tis the nature of the game. Real-life drama played out in real-time at breakneck speed right before your eyes. And hell, this was only Round One. The rest of the playoffs have a tough act to follow. Chances are we’ll be there watching at the edge of our seats; I type while watching the Kings and Sharks finish their first game of Round Two at 9pm PST – midnight where I’m sitting.
Disclosure: Enterprise Rent-A-Car and the NHL provided me with a gift package to host my watch party as a thank you for writing this post. However, the views and opinions expressed here are purely my own.
Find out about my own #imahockeydad giveaway at http://www.imahockeydad.com/2013/05/11/nhl-playoff-hockey-is-back-giveaway, which is open to entries until the end of Round 2 of the NHL playoffs.
p.s. Just found this link from the NHL to a video montage of 17 overtime game-winning goals from Round 1, which by the way, was a record – Enjoy!
Hockey Night in Canada’s 60th Season feature “Footsteps” narrated by Dave Bidini @hockeyesque is sure to give every cold-blooded Canadian hockey fan goosebumps. I certainly got a heavy dose of ‘em.
On the almost-eve of the return of NHL hockey, I promise to not belabour the point (for too long), but I do wish to take the league to task for their decision to use the phrase and online hashtag #hockeyisback to promote the “triumphant” and long overdue return of the professional game. Perhaps for less educated NHL-only fans beyond Canadian borders the NHL is synonymous with hockey. Though I did meet and several hockey parents and players in places like Nashville back in November who I’m sure would argue otherwise.
What I’d like to state here and maybe even start a mini online revolt over is #hockeyneverleft. Yes, while the NHL was off sorting out its finances, hockey continued on ponds, in local arenas, on the world stage for major junior and national teams and in the hearts and minds of players from mini mites to beer leaguers everywhere. As I write this the hometown OHL team’s 39th game is on the tube. A great exhibition of hockey by young men fighting and dreaming of a chance to play in The Show. The NHL and its players, particularly with their recent greedy shenanigans, cannot just show up five months late and lay claim to the game we love. If anyone asked me I would have quickly offered snappy alternative catchphrases like #theNHLisbackinbusiness or #showmedahockeymoney. We heard a lot about how the players just wanted to get back on the ice, but then found out that was only true if they could ensure multi-million dollar pensions were protected. And to again be clear, I place blame equally on the league and the players; both handling the labour situation in a business-like manner because after all that’s exactly what it is – a business first. So don’t come back a few days later with a soppy, melodramatic marketing video claiming to be protectors of the beautiful game you’ve held as a pawn in your litte side game these so many weeks.
Starvation of the media, who are naturally fuelled by pro hockey news and have had nothing “hockey-related” to talk about since back in September, is painfully obvious as I’ve heard and seen intense in-depth coverage of every aspect of the Maple Leafs’ abbreviated training camp; an unfortunate hazard of living so close to Toronto as a non-Leafs fan. And online from Twitter to Facebook to each and every sports-related website, should you care, you can readily find the minutiae that is pre-season NHL hockey in every city the game is played; and particularly the Canadian cities. Not sure the same enthusiasm is felt in Phoenix, Tampa, Miami or the home of the reigning Stanley Cup champions. Pretty sure they, who are the primary target of the marketing spin, care whether or not #hockeyisback.
As for me, I can honestly say I didn’t and still don’t really miss the NHL as we’re generally so busy with our kids hockey, which usually occupies 5-7 days a week. I don’t get a chance to watch many regular season games anyway. I’m guessing the parents of most competitive hockey players are in the same boat. When we are home there are so many other things to draw our attention like work, the Internet and a myriad of other sports. Given the choice the Boy himself will head to the basement to play Call of Duty or NHL13 online with mostly his hockey buddies. They love to play, but aren’t necessarily compelled to watch the pro version of their favourite game. If I did have time to actually go to a game, the closest team is the Leafs and very few families of four can afford the price of a hockey night in Toronto.
Add to this what has become an inexorably long NHL regular season where most early and mid-season games feel like they don’t even really matter. I said a few weeks ago, as the lockout dragged on, I wouldn’t mind if every season was condensed to 50 games or so, provided they still started in September and were done by April or May. Every year in recent memory, as the playoffs are heading into the third week of June, I and most people I’ve talked to have lost interest in staying indoors to watch a Winter sport. There are, of course, a few diehards or the fans who’s teams are still contending for the Cup who continue to watch and cheer. In the upcoming shortened season, by comparison, pretty much every game will matter. Getting off to a slow start could dramatically affect a team’s ability to make the playoffs.
Maybe this was all part of a sinister plan by the NHL and NHLPA to make their game more exciting at the risk of losing a whole bunch of erstwhile followers. As a fine Canadian writer, Dave Bidini, aptly pointed out in a recent National Post article, the NHL better hope they haven’t created too much apathy and/or outright anger in former die-hards with four work stoppages since 1992. He writes of what he sees and hears in men’s league hockey change rooms, “It’s a stink of ennui and dissatisfaction and anger (and maybe a little boredom) caused by the way NHL hockey has turned since the Gary Bettmans of the world got a hold of it; or rather, since the Bettmans began to ride it, for old hockey codgers with caterpillar scars will tell you that it got this way once they started wearing helmets and moving teams out of Canada.”
Don’t get me wrong. I will no doubt watch a game or two when I can find the time and I’m likely all in once the playoffs start depending on its participants. After all, the NHL concocted a devious plan specifically aimed at me when they brought back my beloved Winnipeg Jets after so many years in exile. Rory Boylen of The Hockey News rightly points out NHL fans will flock back with open arms because it still is the highest level of hockey being played and every team has its loyal following. A conversation with a friend/colleague in Montreal this afternoon further confirmed this as he noted and likewise complained about lineups outside the Bell Centre for tonight’s Habs intra-squad game. He pointed out how teams in American cities are trying to lure fans back with free tickets and bargain basement prices on paraphernalia while in Montreal and Toronto there are no such deals to be had.
Plenty of fans, bar and restaurant owners, league employees and reporters, as noted, have been anxiously waiting for the NHL’s return and I am pleased for them. The NHL’s hockey business still does matter to this increasingly exclusive group.
I said I wouldn’t go on too long, so here endeth the rant. However, based on recent history of this league and management of their “hockey” business, look for another to follow in 8-10 years. Hope someone still cares enough to listen where the NHL is concerned, but fairly confident I’ll still be able to heartily say #hockeyneverleft.
Please do chime in if you agree, disagree or could not care either way (in keeping with the theme).
NHL Lockout PSA – Only You Can Help!
NHL Lockout PSA – Only You Can Help!