As frequent visitors to this space know by now my son has had tremendous fortune during his short hockey career. As a newbie and spare part last year (up and down your wing, get the puck out of your end, get the puck into their end) he was a champion in both his winter and spring leagues. This past winter he came in as one of the elder statesmen on his team and a larger contributor, first as a defenceman and then as a goalie as he requested the opportunity to backstop his team through the playoffs (he's got guts). It was brutally stressful for his parents but he his team triumphed, making him three for three. The picture above is after that triumph. He is in the middle. This is one of my favourite pictures ever taken.
Three seasons played. Three trophies raised.
This spring his team hit the ice running. It turned out that out of the best seven players in the league all but two were on the boy's club. In the preseason they destroyed each opponent in turn, outscoring the rest of the league 38-3 in three games. The team was so good that they actually played hockey, passing the puck, making plays, it was absolutely unfair and so the teams were balanced, three of their five best players were moved out and replaced and the end result was that in the first shift of their first regular game they allowed as many goals as they had all preseason.
Not only did swapping the players out make their roster weaker but it also exposed a goalie who had never played before and had not even faced double figures in shots yet,
It was a short schedule and the top two teams would go directly to the final. With two weeks left they were in the mix but in danger. They tied the first place team to gain a valuable point and then lost to the last place team (in fact they had gathered a point out of a possible six from that team, two out of six from the first place team and four out of four from the team they were trying to catch. Parity!) That single point out of four should have doomed them but their prey were blanked themselves and so going into the final weekend the two teams were tied. Saturday the boy's team managed a draw against their nemesis, knocking them out of the race (that team managed six of their eight total points against the boy - talk about having their number!) and so they went into their game Sunday only needing a tie to advance to the big game.
The team had been playing better and better. Their coach was terrific, all enthusiasm and smiles, but talking to each player after the game to point out an improvement they could make. They had been outshooting their opponents, done in by a lack of finish by all but one player who had carried the offence and by their own inexperienced goaltending. One got the sense though that something might break and so on this Sunday it did. With everything on the line they fell behind by one almost immediately and then tore the other team apart. By the time the clock was running down they were up seven to one and a couple of garbage goals did nothing to change the fact that they were going to the final. For the boy, old hat.
After last season there were few nerves for him. His start to the season had been rough, two months or so between the pipes had dulled his instincts and he was a step behind but he improved as the season went on and so with the final looming he was ready, having played his best games in the previous weekend. I gave him the usual 'you'll be a bit nervous, that's normal, just play your game and enjoy it, you never know when you may play in another' - I should know, for me its been over thirty years :( - and he nodded and smiled.
The first team the boy played on was an all out team, his second and third were more star driven though in both cases the coaching was terrific and the supporting cast made a difference. This team, a .500 team that somehow finished second (the first place team was miles ahead), had the best player in the league but with a three goal maximum per game his team tied a lot of games 3-3 and lost a few 4-3 and 5-3. They needed to be like the boy's first team and in their last two games they suddenly began to become that team and in the final they were that team through and through.
Their opponent had a kid who could shut down our star or at least match his three goals every game, on this day he was shut out, checked into the ground by the five D and waves of forwards who got on him as soon as he started to wind up to go. Only a few minutes in a kid so anonymous I had no idea who he was got behind their D and picked the corner. 1-0 and his Dad, beside me, laughed. I told him he would score today he said; it was his son's first ever goal.
After that, well lets just say I've seen few games with so many twists and turns. A shot by the boy's team trickled over the line, the refs didn't see it and waved it off. Two more cleared off of the goalline. A mercurial little defenceman who had ripped it up in the preseason and then disappeared until the previous game when he scored three made it 2-0 and then they got one back. And then ... a penalty shot for them. We groaned because for all of our carrying the play it looked like the hockey gods were not smiling. And then, the blocker shooting out, the puck bouncing off of the post and staying out.
Early in the third our star player finally broke free and got one and it was all running downhill from there. The little defenceman got his second with four minutes left and then another player got his first career goal to make it 5-1. They got one in garbage time but that was it. The underdog was champion and it wasn't even close.
Four for four the boy is now. Four for four. (And he had his best game of the year, by far.)
On Father's Day we went for lunch and I joked that maybe some day he could play for Capsule, maybe he would be a champion twenty times over by then and then we could see whose mojo was stronger, him winning or me losing.
What I'm saying is he's a human rabbit's foot. We're taking offers all of you downtrodden NHL franchises. Lineup starts on the right.