Monday, March 18, 2013

Our Children Is Learning

 Good and bad this past weekend in the McLean household.

 As an older team Capsule has always run into trouble in the playoffs because our league runs over March Break and unlike some of the teams of youngsters we face this actually means something to us. We have been prolific breeders, as one of my teammates remarked last year as we surveyed a basement teeming with Capsule progeny

 Well there's one area Capsule has no problem scoring in.

 The result is that when March Break rolls around and playoffs with them we are often short. And this year it may have cost us one game and with that game, our year.

 We had a great year, we really did. Five real defencemen for the first time in years and years and no coincidence that that was the last season we had like this where we were actually true contenders. We finished tied for second in a ten team league (seeded third on GD) and were one of four teams that ran the division essentially.

 First round we got a nice draw and swept both games although the second game was a bit dicey and we got a taste of upcoming issues as the other club ran three lines out and we faded on the big ice.

 The second series we faced the fourth placed club, a tough matchup for us. They're a solid three line team and had both the top scorer in the league, a massive centreman, and the best goalie as well. In our three games in the season we had tied them, beaten them 2-1 with both goals coming in the last minute and beaten them with eight skaters with the winner coming in the last minute.

 So about as evenly matched as can be.

 And so game one, last weekend, ended in a 2-2 tie.

 Game two came Friday and we had nine skaters and only two regular D and they had three full lines and the results, well the results were expected. Another regular D might have saved us. We fell behind 2-0 and then it was 3-1 but we clawed our way back and with nine minutes left we had tied it up. It wasn't to be though, they kept coming and we couldn't hold it as we ran out of gas and so they got one and then another quickly after and finally an empty netter to seal it.

  What this all meant is that Sunday we had to win just to survive. And if we did then we would go to a 5 minute OT to decide the series and if that did not then a shootout. Shootouts are stupid. My son agrees. Any other opinion is invalid.

 Sunday we had four D and eight forwards and basically we ran their show. We scored early and kept coming and scored another and then we poured it on. Two more and they got one and we came right back with another and with ten minutes left we were looking home and cooled.

 Except ... except lol. We took our foot off the gas a bit. We got a penalty, one of four (4!) we would take in the last ten minutes. They scored. We killed the next penalty and then one of our D made an awful play and they got another goal. And then with just over a minute left and one of our guys in the box they pulled within one.

 Its funny. When I was a boy I was small and quiet and when it came to sports I could lack confidence. I played and I loved it but I was the type of kid who would not push back. And two weeks ago when we were at the rink the game before us went to a shootout and I turned to our captain and joked that if it came down to that for us I would probably best go after Dale. Dale is our goalie.

 But here we were with the season on the line and our two best forwards (both centres) on the ice and a third was needed and the question was who and I said 'I'm going' and I hopped over the boards no hesitation. I wanted to be out there.

 They got the puck into our end but no clear chance although I iced it with about seven seconds left (not enough English ha) but we scrambled the draw and so were alive.

 Overtime went by in a flash but not before their goalie saved their season. Buddy let in five goals in the game but the total distance the puck travelled on those, maybe 15 feet if that. We crowded him and went to the net and so with a few minutes left we did it again and the rebound came to one of our wingers and the top of the net was gaping, same as it was a few months ago when the same guy scored the winner for us with seconds left. He was close in and he got it up but somehow a limb flailed and the puck skittered wide. Luck eh? Would have traded that earlier shot for this one at this point.

 And so a shootout. You can't get traffic to the net on a shootout.

 In our league the shooters go at the same time. I hate it. So three guys. First two were saves. Second round our guy was stopped, their guy scored. Third shooter for them was stopped, our guy scored. And then it went sudden death.

 What might have been? Two of our three guys who were still awol with their families on vacation because they're selfish ;) are two of our best pure shooters, the sort of guys who have good hands in close. They wouldn't have been in the top three but probably would have been four and five. Would it have mattered? Maybe not. Maybe so.

 As the fourth guys wound up our captain looked to my opposite winger and said 'You?' and the response was noncommital and then  I said I'll do it, I wanted the chance and so when the fourth shooters both missed I jumped on the ice.

 I know in this case you're supposed to let instinct take over but my general instinct is to stuff it into the goalie's crest so before the whistle blew I knew what I as going to do, I was going to go in hard, open my stick up as if I was going to shoot and then go backhand deke, hopefully up top.

 And I did and he opened up and came with me and I didn't see myself getting it up and so I went for the opening. I turned and saw they had missed and I wanted that chance to sprint up the ice and leap into my teammates' arms but I was sure he had stopped it. He lay there not moving and part of him was in the net and the ref crept in and then the goalie got up and the puck was there in the crease for all to see.

 And then the next two shooters and their man shot it and it squeaked between arm and body and in and our guy rang it off the post could you imagine. An inch this way for them, an inch that way for us and we win.

 Disappointment but that's the hockey gods for you. Also shootouts are a mockery of the sport, fuck the shootout.

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 On the other side of the coin the boy played Saturday morning in the final game of their round robin. If everything had gone according to Hoyle the game would have been meaningless as these were the top two teams in the division by far and they should have both been home and cooled out. But while the boy's team had won both of their games their opposition had been upset and so while we figured we were through we didn't know the vagaries of the tiebreaker and so the thought was that a win probably would be the best idea. And missing three of the Sharks' stronger players was going to make this a taller order.

 I've probably played about thirty seasons of hockey all told and in all of that time I have made a championship game or series twice. Here the boy, like Tyler Seguin, had a chance to make it as a true rookie.

 And they played beautifully. Our little goalie, who had a tough stretch, has come into his own and so he held the fort. The rest of the team checked like demons and my son, who would get one or two touches a game at the beginning of the year, had a shot on net (it was blocked) and otherwise did his best (insert favourite checker - I'm going to go with Fernando Pisani) Fernando Pisani impression. He battled for the puck all game, taking it from bigger guys (they're all bigger than him), crashing into guys, fighting for it while lying on the ice, clearing the zone like a veteran. ;) And so when the buzzer went to end a 4-3 win and seal a trip to the big game, my son, who would make the perfect NHL player in that he makes Dion Phaneuf look like the life of the party when you're talking to him about the games, pumped his fist in the air and had a grin a mile wide that you could see across the ice even behind his cage, a grin that was still on his face all the way into the dressing room.

 I congratulated him and told him that this coming Saturday he just has to do his best and enjoy himself.

 Because I'll be worrying enough for all of us.

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 A lot of people figured that with the three point games and short schedule that the playoff race might involve more teams that usual and it looks like they were right. Despite the doom and gloom surrounding the Oilers a week ago they are now in tenth place. They are two points out of a playoff spot, four points from the division lead and four points out of last place in the conference. Haha. Chicago could probably win three more of their remaining twenty games and make the playoffs (!) but other than them and the California Boudreaus, everyone else is in the race. I would bet on LA and St Louis on making the grade and probably ending up in a first round war and I really really can't see Vancouver not making it. But the rest of it is up for grabs. Crazy. Only Florida is out of it in the entire league really.

 And boy I wonder if the dummies who run the Oilers ever regret not picking up a top four Dman and a top nine LW who could check some last summer. Man oh man. And now everyone is going to start getting paid too. Oh well, we'll cross that bridge when we get to it and I will do so as I cross every bridge, in the fetal position. (Its true you can ask my wife, bridges terrify me)

 I figured the Oilers for a possible playoff team with some luck and so far with the exception of the Horcoff injury they have had some including last night when they were outchanced and still won. It happens though. Can they make it? Sure. They need some breaks and at least two points against either SJ or St Louis would help, preferably against the former.

 What I have really enjoyed these past two weeks or so is the emergence of Magnus Paajarvi. While I never saw him as an offensive talent on par with Hall or Eberle I found it surprising that so many folks chose to write him off considering he scored fifteen goals as a rookie, most of those after he was placed into a more offensive role later in the year.

 Context matters. I remember Erik Cole getting dumped on for lack of offence despite playing with Ethan Moreau and Kyle Brodziak against tough opposition, all the while starting in the defensive zone most of the time. What do people expect? We see it in Toronto right now with fans and apparently the coach down on Grabovski and Kulemin. When you're doing the tough sledding the offence is a little hard to come by and Paajarvi was either doing that or playing with fourth line plugs.

 I thought, especially with Yakupov struggling on his off wing, that Paajarvi should get a top six shot and not one of those 'you'll get two periods and if there's nothing doing you're back in the pressbox' shots but an actual dozen games playing with talent. I thought they should have done the same with Omark last year. Let the kid play, let him make mistakes and have a bad game or two, like the golden boys. Worse case he can't cut it. Or maybe he gets on a roll like Paajarvi is on now. Its wonderful to see.

 And I can't help but point out that Mark Spector was calling for Ben Eager over Paajarvi in this spot. Of course he's the same guy who called Cam Barker a top three NHL defenceman last year.

 So not all of us is learning apparently.

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