Among the things I enjoy in life are:
- chicken wings
- French-fried potaters, and
- lounging in a state of semi undress after playing a hockey game.
Never have I experienced all four of these elements at once ... until now.
With our last game of the season having finished, we’re sitting around in our dressing room, some of us dressed only in towels, others still stewing in smelly hockey gear. Despite the late hour the arena concession people have stuck around and are sending regular food shipments into our room, and refusing to accept payment in return. And contrary to the norm, not a single member of our team has gone home, even though the game has been over for half an hour.
There’s a jovial, festive atmosphere in our room and in the room down the hall. Some of the opposition players are mingling in the hallway with some of our players, amicably rehashing the two-game final series. We’re one big, happy family even though one team is the league champions and the other isn’t.
I think we knew deep down that we weren’t going to win. We clung to the fact that these opponents, despite their superiority in speed and skill, needed overtime to beat us when we met them in the preliminary round. But in the final two games they didn’t leave much room for hope, beating us 6-3 and 3-1.
Our two 20-something players, one fresh out of junior B and the other a stalwart at the senior AA level, were more than capable of competing with those guys. But for the rest of us it was a stretch. They were simply faster, more skilled and better organized.
The loss is disappointing but there’s also satisfaction in the knowledge that, by reaching the final, we overachieved significantly. A decidedly mediocre team during the first half of the season, we went on an 8-2 tear to end the regular season. Then we took our team, a squad that’s relatively old, lacking in high-end skill, not particularly fast and not particularly great at passing, and made it to the final, eliminating some pretty strong teams along the way.
Our strengths were our workmanlike tenacity, a commitment to a structured defence and a solid young goaltender. It’s the best finish this team has ever posted in its history, which dates back about 20 years (this was my first season with them).
On a personal note, I found our playoff run to be exhilarating and fun, though I was disappointed to find I was no longer in very good shape as the season wound down. In the days leading up to the final two games I engaged in some workout cramming in an attempt to elevate my physical status. It helped a bit but there’s only so much you can do in a few days.
After our resounding loss in the first game of the final, I decided to abandon my strictly defensive style, recognizing that our team needed more offence. In the last game I let it all hang out, racing up the ice to join in our offensive attack, trying to do more with my chances to skate with the puck. These efforts didn’t generate any tangible results or affect the outcome of the game, but competing more on the edge like that made the game more fun.
As the party in the room continues, I’ve forgotten all about the physical pain I’ve endured during the past few weeks. I suppose these issues will fill the coming days with thoughts about my ability to continue playing at this level. But, for the moment, it’s time to savour what was a pretty fun ride.