Once we got onto the ice, my outlook changed a bit. While we were still playing the best team in the league, with the top scorer (49 points in 15 games), they only had seven skaters. This meant they still had enough skaters to be able to always be resting one D and one O, but at least this made it a pretty fair fight.
We got off to a quick start, with Tony U. hammering one home within the first minute and a half. Damien lit the light nine minutes later to give us a two goal lead that we took into intermission. That two minute intermission felt like ten seconds. I was exhausted and dripping with sweat.
Midway through the second was when I started to get the shakes with a touch of the woozies. Neither team was giving any ground, meaning every puck was a battle. Giving an inch or showing any weakness could have been disastrous. Teams can always pick up on weak links and attack. Fortunately, we didn't have any. So even though were weren't getting any good scoring chances, neither were they. That was only until late in the period, though, when their top scorer managed to sneak past our D and get a deep pass for a breakaway. With 30 goals on the season before stepping on the ice, the end result of his breakaway was a foregone conclusion.
Soaking wet and electrolyte deprived, we ended the second period with a 2-1 lead and not much left in the tank. A 2-1 lead is a terrible lead. Especially if you're on defense, which is where I was. A slim lead makes the losing team attack harder, and even the tiniest mistake can swing moment and lead to heartbreak.
And then the flurry of penalties began. We spent most that period dumping pucks deep while on a man disadvantage, unable to establish an offense. But then disaster struck for the other team. Their biggest player (with the hardest shot) became entangled with Erik as the two fought for the puck. As their momentum ground to a halt, the big man wiped out, pulling Erik down on top of him. When they hit the ice, Erik was fine, but their big guy's game was done. He hurt his ankle (either broken or severely sprained), making the game 6 on 6. That was all we needed. I said it earlier, teams find weakness and attack. Getting hurt is always a possibility.
With four minutes left, Tony U. found the back of the net on a breakaway. I had just gotten off the ice for my second small break of the period, and as I sat their slumped over on myself, I almost cried tears of joy (and exhaustion). I had a golf ball growing on the outside of my left foot from a blocked shot and every inch of me wanted to stop moving, and when that puck went through, I was overwhelmed by relief. Not only did that puck put gas back in my tank, it deflated the other team's spirits and acted as blood in the water for our team. Two and a half minutes later, Dan snuck one more in for safe keeping, and we ended the game with a 4-1 victory.
|Happy Goalie, Happy Life. (Photo courtesy of Dylan Williams)|
After hand shakes and words of encouragement to the injured player, we slowly made our way back to the locker room. It took a long time to get all that gear off, and even longer to crawl into the showers.
The whole point of this recap is that I have never before been happier with how well every single person on the team played. Everyone on Team Orange gave it their all for the entirety of the game, even when they were beyond exhausted. The offense backchecked all night and gave the other team hell through the neutral zone all night and the defense played a tough but smart game, bodying up, blocking shots, and clearing the puck out of the zone every time the team needed it. Everyone played their position and did their job to the best of their abilities, working as a unit and never lounging on the expectation that a fellow teammate would pick up their slack.
The biggest thing was that nobody was ever a burden to anyone else on the team. If anything, every person only tried to make everyone else's life a little easier. It's a pretty good way to be successful as a unit (team, society, world, etc.). If everyone stopped focusing on how bad they think they have it, and worried more about helping those who might have it worse, a lot of our problems would take care of themselves. While you're busy helping someone through their struggle, there's going to be another person helping you through yours.
Anyway, a huge thank you goes out to Cat, Damian, Dan, Erik, Tony U., and most importantly, Will. Best game I've ever been a part of, and I'm glad I could share it with you guys.