The Sharks struggled through a rough last week in going three full games without scoring a goal starting with their 3-0 loss in the tourney championship game last weekend. And it wasn’t like they were playing particularly poorly in two losses and a tie.
In fact, in their first game after the tourney last Tuesday they managed to outplay and out-shoot the over-matched opposition 35-14. In taking 35 shots, their inability to put one behind the goalie was nearly inexplicable. At one point about halfway through the game I grasped at my already thinning hair in desperation as I watched a point-blank shot somehow get foiled by a flailing keeper. That particular shot of course came off the stick of the Devil herself. We did face some strong goalies and the girls, out of their own apparent desperation, did try to get too close in to take their shots, thereby limiting their angles of opportunity. Or maybe they gripped their sticks at little too tightly,which is an oft heard hockey malady. But surely 1 out of 35 attempts should be able to weasel its way through. No such luck and yes I would have taken and/or prayed to the hockey gods for a little of that too.
In the next game the girls needed more than luck as they came out of the gate terribly flat. They were challenged by a team who pressured them the way we have been instructing them to pressure others….and they did not respond well. In what was probably their poorest effort of the season the girls continued to not score while allowing four goals against.
We entered our fourth game in search of a single marker to break through the drought with nary a regular season win to boot. A record of 0-3-2 positioned us firmly in the basement of our eight-team league. Perhaps the only heartening fact was a quick look at the standings revealed that no squad was particularly dominant or scoring at any type of record pace. Two goals per game, or more often less, appears to be the norm. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that one of our goalies was herself on a three-game shutout streak. Our rivals haven’t been scoring on us either. But we still encourage our players to get out on their driveways and fire shots at nets, or more specifically the corners of those nets where enemy goalies are less likely to be. Sometimes it certainly feels like the crests on opposing keepers sweaters are mistaken for puck-intended bulls-eyes.
A few minutes into “game four” the seemingly impenetrable seal was broken. A scramble in front of the other team’s goal mouth ended with our girls disproving the existence of an invisible goal blocking force field. The proverbial monkey was off their communal back. As in the game before the previous less-than-stellar effort, my charges out-hustled their counterparts, controlling the bulk of the play in both ends.
As an aside, I unwittingly did the team a disservice by simply saying to our hot netminder “Let’s keep it up.” A presumably harmless quip of encouragement that she immediately took to be a potential shutout jinx. I should know not to tempt the hockey gods with such talk, particularly where goalies are concerned; though a hex was definitely not my intention. But, of course, the first post-comment shot against us would end our backstop’s shutout ride with a resounding thud. From now on I will keep such pre-game comments to myself so as to avoid the harsh brush of blame.
We would flirt with a 1-1 tie all the way down to five minutes left in the third period when our Captain would release a slap shot from the slot heard round the rink. To that point, the same Captain had played her best game of the season thus far; something the coaching staff has been looking for. In almost prescient fashion, I had noted similar slap shots in pre-game warmups and said, “If she ever gets one of those off in a game, it’s gonna go in.” Feel free to call me Swami if you will. Captains, in my estimation, need to lead by example. She certainly did in this important match. Her teammates took the cue and the Sharks held on for win to vault themselves up into sixth place, only two points out of third quite early in the season.
We hope our scoring woes are behind us with continued hard work leading to more second-chance opportunities – the most effective recipe for success in girls’ hockey. If history is any indication, there is plenty more hair pulling to come. I may need to don my coach’s fedora before too long.