Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Hockey Life: What NHL?

Admittedly, hearing that the NHL and the NHLPA engaged in substantive talks last week got my hopes up, albeit slightly, that a deal was within reach and, perhaps, we'd be seeing the opening of abbreviated training camps in the days ahead. Alas, reality struck in and, here we are, apparently no closer to a season than a month ago.

Thankfully, and I say this with all sincerity, I've had Colin's hockey, even with its continued nonsense with one kid on his team, to fill my hockey fix, so far, this season. Yesterday's doubleheader, so to speak, serves as a perfect example.

Based on scouting reports from parents on other teams in the league, I figured Colin's Jr. Bulls peewee A squad stood a very good chance of winning its first game of the day. Well, it did, but not by the margin that I expected. It was a hard-fought 1-0 win over a very scrappy Jr. Knights team from Orlando.

This game was closer than the score. In a contest of close calls and a multitude of moments, it came down to one Jr. Bulls player's extra efforts to score the game's only goal in the waning minutes of the third period. To be honest, I can't remember feeling so tense at one of Colin's games. I can still sense the relief that swept over me when I saw a referee signal the goal.

And, as exciting as the first game proved to be, the second of the day, against a Scorpions Red squad that handily won a previous meeting, was that much more.

I'm not a big fan of kids expending any more energy than refueling their bodies between games. And as draining as the first game was, I was less than thrilled, upon returning from a quick walk, when I spied Colin playing kickball in the rink's back parking lot.

After the Scorpions jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead, I could only envision my worst fears coming true. The kids had indeed wore themselves out and, at best, could hope to only keep it close. The Jr. Bulls' response, with a goal a few minutes later, allayed my concerns.

The kids, it seemed, had plenty left in their tanks.

As the game wore on, it became a series of chances. Shots skittered inches wide, tickled goal lines or clanged off of goal posts. Back-checking forwards, Colin included, covered for defensemen. The level of excitement was building.

After the Scorpions scored to take a 2-1 lead, scoring on a power play, my hopes for a Jr. Bulls win disappeared. It was the kind of goal, as the result of the kind of play (retaliation penalty), that can deflate a team. Imagine my surprise, then, when the kid who took the penalty later roofed one past the Scorpions goalie.

My hope, once lost, had returned.

Both teams, with a win on the line, traded chances. Both goalies played phenomenally, making key saves to keep the game tied. But it took only one moment, as our goalie attempted to freeze the puck, for the Scorpions to score the go-ahead goal. Or so I thought. One referee, losing sight of the puck, blew the play dead.

No goal.

Of course, the Scorpions bench and fans erupted, questioning the whistle and call. I'll admit, too, that the Jr. Bulls got away with one there. It was a quick whistle. There's no doubt about it. Later, the same referee took the blame for allowing the Jr. Bulls, killing off another late-game penalty, to play at even strength, which technically, could have meant another penalty. So, yes, two big breaks went the Jr. Bulls' way, with the game ending in a 2-2 tie.

It was the kind of outcome that can become a turning point for a team's season.

At day's end, these were two games played by kids, ranging from 11 to 12 years old, that covered a wide range of emotions, went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows and, without a doubt, were some of the most exciting hockey I've seen in a long, long time.

As far as I'm concerned, if Colin's hockey is all I get to watch, I have no problem with that.

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