As a hockey parent, I’m always amazed at how brutally quickly the hockey season comes to an end. Although some parents are happy their weekends and evenings will be freed up, I always lament the season’s sudden end. I know it will come. We just never know exactly when.
For all of us, parents and players, hockey becomes a habit, a habit comprised of practices and games, of the hour-long wait before a game begins, doing little, chatting to other parents on the team or catching up with emails. It’s the hockey talk in the lobby after a game while waiting for our player to emerge from the locker room, at long last, for the trip home. It’s even the habits of the washing and drying of clothes and scheduling the meals to meet the Estimated Time of Departures to get us to whatever rink we need to be at, on time.
Like many teams, our team has tryouts, a pre-season, regular season, a series and then, if we’re good enough, a tournament of champions. Depending on your ranking in the regular season sets you up for the series, which is a round robin tournament. For our Bantam “A” team, six teams compete in the series to determine which four of the six go to the semi-finals, and then the winners of those go to the finals.
Last night, our team played its 3rd and final game to determine if we would play in the semi-finals, or pack our bags and go home until next season (or spring hockey, which many players will be playing in). We knew going into the game that it was a win-or-go-home game because we were 1-for-2 of our games played, having won a game but suffering an excruciatingly painful, 9-1 loss, against the #2 ranked team in the league.
Two Goals Down in the Space of 60 Seconds
As is often the case, our opponents scored two back-to-back goals within a sixty-second space in the second period. Our team has 13 players on it – two goalies – so, because of a line change after the first goal, all the skaters were -1 for the game’s plus/minus stats — except for our 5th defenseman, who hadn’t been on the ice for either goal.
And then, one of our players got a 4:00 penalty for an extremely dubious hit to the head, followed one and a half minutes later by a 2:00 tripping penalty. That left our team to kill off a 5-on-3 for a full two minutes, which seemed like an eternity. But our defensemen did an outstanding job intercepting the puck and sailing it down to the other end, time and time again, and any shots on goal were expertly stopped by our goalie. With all five players back on the ice after killing that 5-on-3, their demeanour changed. They were quicker. More head’s up. They started to believe in themselves once again.
Still, to win you need goals and despite many excellent opportunities, our shots on goal stats were dismal for the opening two periods — but the number of shots missing goal could have been the basis for a short novel.
15 Minutes to Go
As soon as the puck dropped to start the 3rd period, our team looked determined to make the last 15 minutes of the game — perhaps the last 15 minutes of our season — count. We have two attacking lines: the first boasts the first, second and third place scorers for our entire league, but it was our second line who scored the first goal. That goal was a definitive momentum changer – and although we had the bulk of the puck possession up and to that point of that period, that first goal lifted our team’s spirits and gave them the courage to dig deep and try harder. A second goal went in, we were tied.
If a winner wasn’t decided in the 3rd period, we would go to overtime. Coach Guy told me later that when we scored that first goal, he knew we would win the game. In the last five minutes of the period, the other team began to panic. They began icing the puck in an attempt to get the puck — and our team — out of their zone. Stop and start. Stop and start.
11 Seconds Left
With 11 seconds left, the puck was dropped again, in their zone; our top scoring offensive line was on the ice. We won the face off and the puck ended up on the blade of our right winger, who wanted to make a move to the goal, but he was surrounded by two players from their team, giving him no options. One of them slapped at the puck to get it out of their zone.
But our right defender saw where the puck was going, and made a hockey moveto stop it from leaving the zone. He knew the clock was against us, and he could see a path to the goal. He made a shot which didn’t go as anyone expected, including him. It bounced in front of the net, missed all the bodies in front and may have had help crossing the line from our center. I can’t tell you, and the video evidence can’t be entered to prove who scored. As the shot was being made, I was videoing it, but lost control. The video jolts away from the ice to my feet, to the stands, but we can hear the shouts of jubilation from the parents all around me, celebrating. The best I can give you is a still shot from that video, watching our defender make that brilliant hockey move as the puck is being pushed towards the blue line.
Living Hockey Another Day
That win has given us the right to live hockey for at least another day. We’ve made it through the series and into the semi-finals. For another Saturday, like most of the Saturdays over the past six months, we will go through our routines. Yesterday’s hockey clothes are clicking around in the dryer, we know what the day’s schedule will be. The season’s sudden end has not yet arrived. The players will play with all the skill, frustration, fun and joy they do every time they hit the ice, and we, in the stands, will love, for at least one more game, watching our kids play the fastest sport on earth.