Monday, March 31, 2014

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner

 If you've been reading this blog for long you will know that the boy started playing hockey last season. He played in a winter league and in a spring league and while he was pretty well a spare part on both teams he was lucky enough that both teams won their playoff championships, giving him more hardware in ten months than I have won as a player over over forty seasons of hockey. Serious the little bas ... never mind.

 He loves the game. He learned a lot and was lucky enough to play in a league and for two coaches who valued the tenets of fair play and sportsmanship and doing things right and so while he wasn't the greatest player he did what he could, the little things that he could manage and was proud, rightly so, of what he accomplished and how he contributed to the team.

 This fall things were different. He was one of the older guys and on a team that had three stars and a handful of players who were very young or very small or not very strong he was one of a handful who fell in the middle of those two groups. He was bigger and stronger and hockey school and practicing his passing and puck handling in front of our house for hours had turned him into a decent player. As his team roared through the league early on he found his niche on the blueline, one of those defensive defencemen types, his game improving quickly enough that he actually struggled at times because he found himself in unfamiliar situations, the puck on his stick suddenly when it had never been before. He had the same coaches as last winter though and so again they guided him and he kept getting better.

 The big difference between this team and last year's team is that last year they had a regular goalie who played every game. This winter there was no goalie and so players took turns. Some did well, some less so. The problem was that the ones who did well included the top three players plus my son and one other of that middle group which was fine except especially in the first case what was gained in net resulted in a big loss out on the ice.

 And so just after Christmas, with his team battling another for first place, the boy announced to me that he thought that he should be the team's starting goalie for the entire playoffs. His logic (and man he is a logical little guy) was that he was pretty good at it (he was) and that if he went in then 'the big three' could skate and this was the best way to ensure that the team went all the way.

 Now there is no history of goaltending in my family with the exception of my wife's uncle and this would seem strange because my family is mental, have been since they came howling out of the moors, naked and dirty, to wreak carnage on the bloody English. And yet despite this NOT crazy enough to play goal.

 I thought about the damage the stress would do to my poor aging heart and then told him to talk to his coach, which he did, and he was told that they would talk about it and think on it, hoping, I think, that another option might present itself because the boy, as noted, was doing a good job on the blue and his coach is a strong believer of a solid D corps.

 And then a few weeks later he was told that it was his to run with.

 His team finished second by a point and had sawed off against their main rivals with a win, a loss and a tie. Their two losses could be explained away pretty easily and so going into the playoff round robin where they would face the other top teams once apiece, top two to move on, I felt that essentially, like Team Canada in Sochi, they were going to be golden unless they played for the championship on a day when the hockey gods were angry. As long as the goaltending held up. :(

 The boy was three and oh going into the playoffs and had allowed nine goals in total. In the first game they played a team with one of the best offensive players in the league, a guy who had beaten him over his shoulder three times in a game earlier. His coach made some suggestions, be big, challenge him, see if you can force him to make the first move. Standard stuff.

 The first period ended with no score and he made a couple of saves which was all that was needed as his team ran rampant in the other end. It was a matter of time, you could see it, and sure enough the dam burst in the second. The other team had a handful of chances after that, the boy stood tall, stopping a breakaway against his nemesis, coming out, taking away the high shot until his opponent ran out of room. By game's end he had allowed one goal as his team romped.

 The next week they needed a win to book a spot in the final. Their opponent had upset them just a few weeks previous, one of those games where all the stars aligned one way. I had been nervous the previous week and was again when the game started. Three minutes in it was three to nothing, I relaxed and had a coffee. The boy had to make one stop (it was a nice one at least) and he got the shutout in an absolute rout. They were through!

 An hour later he told me he was getting nervous for the final, maybe suddenly realizing what he had asked for.

 The third game of the round robin was meaningless now and because it was March Break his team faced their biggest rival shorthanded, missing two of their top three players, icing seven skaters in total.

 They actually jumped to an early lead but when their top player scored his three goals to give them a three to one lead (each player is allowed no more than three goals in a game) the offence was tapped and the foe came in waves. They have an outstanding player, second only to our best player in the league, he scored two but attempt after attempt was turned away as my son had the game of his life. They fell six to three but he stopped over thirty at least and so despite the loss everyone was all smiles. We had the goaltending, it was clear, and with a full roster the result should be a good one a week from now.

 The week before the big game calm prevailed. I talked to the boy now and then, he was nervous, I told him that it was okay to be nervous, that when the game started he just had to concentrate on doing what he knew how to do and to try and enjoy the fact that he was going to be playing in a big game and that he would have the ability to help his team win it all. The morning of the game we arrived early and got him in his gear. Later he told me that as they waited to hit the ice a kid from the other team commented 'hey its the same goalie as last week, we're going to win for sure'. No such thing as bulletin board material in squirt but when he heard this my son got 'really mad' and his nerves went away. So thanks kid with the big mouth!

 His coach ran out the same lineup he did in the first two games of the playoffs. His son (by my eye the best allround player in the league) played in one group and his two other strong players played together. It was a pick your poison. Usually teams started their best player against ours and would get shut down and outscored, meanwhile the other line ran rampant. Their coach chose to do the opposite, running his best player away from our best.

 The game started and it went as well as one would hope really. His team jumped out, scoring one, two and then three goals. Jenn and I, well, we were happy but dying inside. I have never found less pleasure in a game than this one and when the other team threw a puck at the net from the corner and found our son off the post and it bounced in, well I don't think I've ever had a worse feeling. I could just imagine his team losing as everything thrown at him went in.

 But instead the game turned out perfectly. After the slow start their opponents came on strong. They fell behind by three again and then pressed for more. They scored a nice one (the same kid who had scored the first, he fist pumped and danced down the ice after each goal) and so the deficit was two and the boy made some saves and then his team opened up the three goal lead again and then buddy finished his hattrick on another nice play (more fist pumping and grabbing his jersey) and then the other team's best player broke in alone with the deficit only two again ....

 And my boy. Well my boy stopped him cold.

 With about seven minutes left his team scored one more, this time it was our star's sister with a partial break, stopping at the hash marks so her pursuer suddenly slid by and then the puck was in the net and it was three goals again.

 Still no relief as their opponent came on, one rang off the post the boy made more saves and then three minutes left and they pulled the goalie but they didn't get closer, the last shift it was our star and his sister and two other girls and another boy who played great defence all game and then with a minute left an empty netter by our star player and so it wound down, seven to three and then the buzzer and then we could enjoy it, our son dropping his stick and raising his arms and his teammates surrounding him for an extended group hug. 

The trophies presented and his coach calling him up last, making a big deal about him and really it ended perfectly, the team playing as well as it could, beating another very good team and our boy being relied upon to make some big saves, to be a big part of the victory. It couldn't have been any better, the team picture with a huge trophy and him lying down in front of the team, HIS team and reveling in it all.

 For me, more relief than anything at first and then pride, pride in a boy seeing a challenge and having the guts to take it on and see it through. A great day for this Dad. A great day.

 And now he's three for three the little ......!


cartooncolin said...

After all the crap we've gone through as Oiler fans this last, well, decade, reading the tales of your boys hockey journey and love affair with the Maple Laughs has me nodding knowingly about why we watch and play this maddening game in the first place.
I don't have a child but when I do (better get on that) I can't wait for stories of my own like this. And all the heartache, F- bombs, hair loss, and lovely cold ones that come with it.
Gotta hand a frosty cold one to your boys coach as well. A fine chap indeed.
Thanks for this Pat - gave me the god damn goosebumps.

Black Dog said...

Hey Colin, thaks for the kind words. Its a real trip for sure.

And yes his coach is an old friend of mine, finest kind and a hell of a coach.

Cam Charron said...

This is a great story Pat.

Murat said...

Don't share this with the boy, but Fuck Yes. Great tale, great feelings all round.


Black Dog said...

Thanks Cam! Thanks Murat!