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From Dilemma to Joy – When the Hockey Gods Smile

April 15, 2012

Yesterday I was faced with what most people would consider a minor dilemma.  How would I keep track of my favourite teams’ progress while hanging out with my partner and friends, most of whom do not enjoy sports, let alone are absolutely fanatical about hockey. Thanks to my trusty Blackberry, patient RL friends, helpful internet friends and technology, I was able to keep up to date.

The two teams were going into their respective games with different background stories.  The London Knights entered the OHL Playoffs as seeming favourites, having won the league regular season title. They’d won their first series in a sweep and started the second round with a decisive win over the Saginaw Spirit.  Now, having won the series lead back from the Spirit on Friday night, they traveled to Saginaw with the opportunity to move on to the next round.

On the other hand, Team Canada started the World Championships with the worst loss in the program’s history.  Questions immediately ran rampant about whether the team was good enough and whether the coaching staff had prepared them properly.  Each subsequent game became not only a hockey challenge, but a mental challenge for the team to conquer. The team itself never wavered in their confidence that they could still win the gold medal, and after two tough wins against the Finns and another against the Russians, they proceeded into the championship game.

I worked very hard to keep my yelps of joy and nervous growls to a minimum, but the tension of both games made it very difficult.  To top it off, not only would both games start at the same time, but they would also follow a similar pattern in terms of progress.  Because while both Team Canada and the London Knights would start out strongly, their opponents would let them know that they weren’t going to just lay down and give them the victory.

After the first period, Team Canada was tied at 1 goal apiece with arch-rival Team USA, but was encountering a great deal of penalty trouble. The Knights had jumped out to a 2-0 lead and had again out-shot the Spirit and was about to run into a fierce pushback from Saginaw. At the end of the second periods, a lot of the momentum had swung to the opposition.

While Canada would build a 3-1 lead by the 4th minute, Team USA would fight back to tie it at 3s on the back of further powerplays.  A collapse seemed imminent and the intensity of the match was apparent in the amount of pushing and shoving after the whistle.  It was a detriment to Canada, however, as they continued to let their emotions get the best of them and handed the US 4 powerplays.

Further west, still south of the border, Michael Houser and the Knights were facing intense pressure of their own as the Spirit were staging their last stand. Although they peppered Houser with 14 shots and scored two special teams goals, London was able to stave off the push and managed two goals of their own to lead 4-2.

Meanwhile, I was struggling to keep my attention from Twitter.  Too close on both fronts.  With the third periods coming up,  I was welcoming the distractions from my friends. I’m glad they ignored my groans, muted  cheers and obvious temptations to throw my phone.

I missed most of the third period comments for the most part, making pizza and chattering about traveling and setting up the party games.  Given the gravity of the games, I was almost happier to just know the final scores. But my curiosity got the better of me and I had to look.

The Knights would go on to win in regulation time and give me a chance to breathe. Saginaw were game, but never overcame the two goal leads that London held.  The Knights managed to close out the series despite being out-shot by a margin of 24-11 over the final two periods. They now wait for the winner of the Plymouth Whaler vs Kitchener Ranger series which is currently being led by the Whalers -2.

That left the gold medal game. The US would open up their first lead of the game  with another powerplay goal only 3 minutes into the period. Responding to the pressure, the rookies for Team Canada found themselves with reduced ice time as head coach Dan Church relied more and more on his veterans. The well-known names of Wickenheiser (Hayley), Hefford (Jayna) and Ouellette (Caroline) had already hit the board for the Canadians and they were again asked to bring their experience to bear.

It would be relative new-comer Meghan Agosta with assists from Hefford and Ouellette who would tie the game up on the powerplay.  Not a rookie by any means, Agosta had long been expected to show the explosive skill that had made her the MVP of the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.  In Burlington, she returned to the scoresheet and after just over two minutes, the teams were off to another nail-biter of an overtime.

By now we were well into drinks, banter and party games, but I was keeping my friends up to date on how the game was going, whether they liked it or not.  To their credit, they didn’t tell me to get lost or to pay attention, they simply accepted my fascination as a part of who I am – the hockey fan part.

Overtime when a fan is invested in the game is nerve-wracking, breath-taking and can be absolutely heartbreaking. And when they can’t actually SEE the game, it is also distracting. Don’t expect me to pay attention to what’s happening right here and now – I’m concentrating all my prayers to the hockey gods!

Fortunately, Team Canada’s veterans came through again.  Determined to see the gold medal back in their hands, they capitalized on an opportunity under 2 minutes into O/T.  Meghan Agosta was sprung on a 3 on 2 with Tessa Bonhomme and Caroline Ouellette, jumping on a poor US breakout pass and unfortunate fall by its intended recipient. They would execute a textbook play; with defenceman Bonhomme heading directly to the net, taking two defenders with her; Agosta driving wide to keep the goaltender’s attention from Ouellette who was open down the slot. Ouellette made no mistake, accepting the pass and firing the puck past a screened Molly Schaus and securing the win for the red and white.

What a way to erase the memory of the inauspicious start to the tournament and the last three championship defeats at the hands of the Americans.  Even though I had to wait until hours after the game to see the winning goal and various highlights, it was no less exciting due to the updates I had online.  There’s something amazing about watching your Twitter feed explode minutes after the initial tweet of, ‘And we have puck drop in O/T.’

I am so incredibly proud of both ‘my’ teams. It is generally agreed upon by sports fans, that the ability to adjust to adversity is key to a team’s chances of winning a championship.  Teams that do not face adversity prior to their championship, typically have greater difficulties the later in the tournament they encounter it.Team Canada faced its greatest adversity and overcame it to win the world championship. The Knights, while there is still a great deal of playoffs to go, have also faced adversity and put it behind them. For at least one night, my prayers to the hockey gods were heard loud and clear. Now if only they’d listen when the Leafs begin next season…


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