I hesitate to scribe anything here for fear of upsetting the Hockey Gods, but the improbable little David and Goaliath (yes, I’ve spelled it wrong intentionally) story the Boy’s Junior C hockey team is authoring right now is well worth sharing. You see the Shamrock’s (or Shammies to their closest fans) regular season performance at 14-23-3 would best be described as lacklustre. I believe they suffered from common Jr C afflictions including injuries, absences and intermittent apathy. The squad limped into the playoffs with a come from behind tie in their final contest of the year vs. the team who owned the inauspicious last place in the standings. Expectations were not high heading into the first round against the #2 team in the league who bested their point tally by 13. The only saving grace was they avoided having to play the number one team who were the undoubted cream of the crop. All this said, the Shammies did show flashes of brilliance in the 14 victories there were able to secure and we hockey veterans all know the playoffs are an entirely different season. A little luck of the Irish couldn’t hurt either.
Round 1 would open nearly three hours away from home in enemy territory where the Shamrocks had previously fallen by scores of 8-1 and 5-0. Not exactly trending in a positive direction. However, the few devoted fan who made the trip to witness the inaugural playoff match (present company and Momma included) saw a completely different team take to the ice and dominate their opponents in an impressive 6-4 victory, which at one point included a 5-1 lead. Did I mention how playoffs are an entirely different season?
Momma and I were begrudgingly unable to attend the next three games as we embarked on an uber-Canadian trip to an Ice Hotel, but we intently followed the Shammies online as they took a 3-1 series lead following a 4-0 thumping on home ice, a slim 2-1 loss back in their opponents’ barn and then a 4-1 dagger to the heart in their friendly confines.
Game 5 day arrived and brought with it a good ol’ fashioned Canadian snowstorm. I’m not usually one to let a little snow get in the way of watching a crucial, potentially series ending match, but local law enforcement was advising against non-essential travel and in fact the road to the game was closed in both directions for over two hours. However, the game was inconceivably not cancelled so the team made the perilous trip and showed up 10 minutes after the game was supposed to begin. We would reserve ourselves to again following online, not expecting much from the boys who had been stuck on their bus for over 5 hours, which is not particularly conducive to high athletic performance. And yet, we followed from afar as the Shamrocks quickly opened with a one and then two-goal lead. The Boy would later recall how the second goal was the proverbial nail in their foes’ coffins. The final score in the fifth and final game of Round One was 5-0. The upstart Shammies more than pulled off the upset to advance. Up next, the aforementioned cream of the crop who blew threw their first round opponents, outscoring them 26-9. To say David had his work cut out for him was an unmitigated understatement.
Game one of the second round would see the underdog Shamrocks travel to play Number One in the rink where they had only lost one game in their previous 40. Slim odds to be sure. Goaliath’s strength would be evident early on as they would spend an inordinate time in the offensive zone. The Shamrock’s goaltender (who is sporting the league’s best GAA and Save Percentage in the playoffs) had to be on his game to keep the puck from getting behind him. Despite the league leaders’ dominant play, the Shamrocks would weather the initial storm and trail only by one goal heading into the third period. The score would remain the same until about 4 minutes left when the visitor’s would take advantage of a miscue and throw up a match-tying marker. Then, with only 29 seconds left and on their second powerplay in 2 minutes, the seventh place squad would shock their foes with a go ahead goal. Undaunted and in dramatic fashion, the home team would find a way to force a 20 minute sudden-death overtime with on only 6 tics left on the clock….and exxxxhaaaale. The Shamrocks would take a penalty a few minutes into OT and their game one road fate appeared to be sealed. But Lady Luck smiled again as a D-to-D pass was intercepted and turned into a game winning breakaway goal. In all honesty, it was the first breakaway goal I’ve witnessed them score this entire season. Maybe there were others, but this one came with pretty good timing if you ask me. David cast the first stone.
The series moved to Erin last night, where the Shamrocks knew they’d most likely woken up Goaliath and the Boy said the pre-game chatter was all about bracing for an expected onslaught. And while the visitors came on full-force, the home team more than held it’s own and counted the first two goals to the delight of the largest contingent of Shammies fans in the stands to date. The worst score in hockey (2-0 for the uninitiated) was erased by the series favourites a few minutes into the third period thanks to a 5 on 3 powerplay. Just a few minutes later, following another defensive miscue, a Shamrocks forward was able to poke the puck over the opposing keeper to push the score to 3-2 causing the stands and the Home team bench to erupt in unison. A no doubt shocked coaching staff was forced to pull their goalie in favour of an extra attacker with a couple of minutes left in the game. The undesired result was an empty net goal for the good guys who cast the second unlikely stone.
Which brings us to Game Three tonight back on unfriendly turf where the Shamrocks will look to take a stranglehold on the best of seven series. This battle is far from over as the favourites will no doubt come out guns-a-blazin’ and the visitors still have their work cut out for them. The Boy, for his part, is feeling the effects of two hard-fought series and an ill-timed head cold, but winning has a way of easing bumps, bruises and sniffles.
Regardless the outcome this evening or in the series, the boys in Irish green have certainly represented themselves well and turned the tables on an otherwise underwhelming season. Kinda reminds me of another team who not so long ago beat the odds and nearly went all the way. In the process, the Shammies turned back the clock for at least one hockey dad and mom who are relishing every nail-biting moment.