From June 28th to July 8th, the Anaheim Ducks, Reebok, and the Amateur Athletic Union hosted a massive, two-part roller hockey tournament at The Rinks: Huntington Beach. The 2012 Inline Hockey Adult Nationals segment of the tournament was held from June 29th to July 1st, while the 2012 Inline Hockey Junior Olympics ran throughout the course of the week-and-a-half -long event.
I participated as a player in the Adult Nationals tournament, and played spectator to a large amount of both Junior Olympics and Adult Nationals games. This is my experience.
The Last Day
In last week’s installment, I wrote about the second day of the tournament, which was highlighted by a marked increase in our play as a team, only to end in frustrating fashion with a loss against a team we should have (and could have) beaten.
One of the great cliches in hockey (and really all sports) is the go-to catchall, “Hockey is a game of… [insert whatever here] – inches, controlled fury, violence, bounces, etc. This is useful when attempting to lead into a discussion on a general topic…just as I’m about to do here.
Hockey is a game of momentum shifts, and although we were feeling pretty good about ourselves following our first game on the second day of tournament, our team completely lost any and all momentum we may have generated with our stinker of a performance in the next game. As I’ve stated many times previous, stewing over a bad loss is just as dangerous to a team’s collective psyche as getting too high on an impressive victory. Every new game starts with a blank canvas, and it’s up to you and your team to decide how the painting will look.
Going into our final day of the tournament still seeking our first win, it was imperative that we walk into the rink at an even keel, with no preconceived notions as to what would be in store for us on this day.
This, admittedly, would have been easier had we not known we’d be playing Mission-Bauer 77’s.
The 77’s had predictably cruised to easy victories in every game they had played in (which, in some ways should’ve made the other three teams in the Bronze division feel at least a little better – I’m not so sure that this was the general feeling, though), and were entering the last day of the tournament all but assured of a gold medal. We, at least temporarily, stood in their way.
Although we all had a pretty strong idea of exactly how events would play out, it was Mike who stood up in the locker room and said to us, “Just play them hard. That’s all we can do – just play ’em hard.”
Great advice, but if only it would actually be that easy.
The 77’s may have been missing their two best players (Shayne Arsenault and their phenomenal puck-moving goaltender), but they still had enough individual and team-skill to handle us easily. I like to think that we played better against them this time, but in the end, it still wasn’t even close – although we did light the lamp a few times (which really isn’t that impressive considering that the guy they had in goal looked like he had slightly less than zero experience in the crease).
In the end, it was another loss, another mercy – but it didn’t happen easily. After the first period, our goaltender Patrick skated to the bench and told me, “I can’t keep playing. I’m gonna be sick.” He looked horrible, and immediately took a seat on the bench and stripped off his chest protector. The next time he got up, he made a beeline to the trash can to throw up. He wouldn’t return, and we had no choice but to finish the game with five skaters and an empty net. Then, something worse happened.
Midway through the second period, Mike’s son Eddie (a gritty, tenacious forechecker) found himself in foot race to the puck in the corner with a player from the 77’s. Both players got there at the same time, and there was some incidental contact, but Eddie slipped and went down awkwardly. He hit the boards with a sickening thud, and he immediately started writhing in pain. The whistle blew and a crowd slowly formed around Eddie who was, to put it mildly, in some considerable discomfort.
The way he went into the boards, it could’ve been any number of things – his knee, his neck, his shoulder…maybe some combination of all three. One thing was certain – Eddie would not be finishing this game. By this point, the 77’s were one goal away from the mercy, and with only a few minutes left on the clock, we asked the referees whether we could just forfeit – after some discussion, it turned out that, in fact, we could not. Again, the 77’s were gracious about all of this, and when Steve suggested that he just take the puck off the face-off and put it into our own net, the 77’s seemed to acquiesce.
Not everyone was on the same page, though. Steve lost the face-off. The 77’s entered our zone and Chris, who had been hanging deep back in our own zone, playing “goalie,” broke up a pass and turned to go the other way. Before I knew what was happening, I had the puck on the right side with an open shooting lane. I took a slap shot, and the puck went in the net.
“What the fuck, man?” one of the 77’s barked at me.
“I don’t know…I don’t know what’s going on.”
“Alright, if that’s how it’s going to be, fine.”
We lined up for another face-off, and the 77 that lined up next to me said, “Come on, boys, we’re hockey players – surely we all have more pride than this.”
We were still playing, it seemed. It did not last much longer than that, though. With an open net, it was only a matter of time before they put in another couple of goals to mercy us – and when they did, it was over, mercifully.
With the hand-shake line complete, our collective attention turned to Patrick and Eddie. Patrick said that he should be fine to play the next game, but that he would try to get a hold of a back-up goalie, just in case. Eddie wasn’t fine. I entered our locker room to find him sprawled out on the floor, his right leg extended straight out, ice pack in place. He hung the crook of his arm over his eyes. Maybe he was crying – I can’t say for sure.
“You’re not playing the next game, so don’t even think about it,” said Mike. “If you try to play, I’ll throw all your gear into a dumpster. And you know I will, too.”
Eddie was understandably upset. His girlfriend walked into the locker room to attend to him, and Steve, who is a nurse by trade, started examining the leg, asking Eddie questions. When it was determined that it wasn’t something overly serious like a bone break, a few guys helped Eddie sit back up to start making arrangements for a hospital visit.
When Eddie left, we looked around the room at each other. We’d be down to six skaters backstopped by a goalie whose stomach was questionable at best. We knew from the other Bronze division qualifying game that we’d be facing off against Off Constantly in the Bronze medal match-up. They had played us hard in our first game against them, and we had to come from behind just skate off with a tie. We’d definitely be up against it.
But with Eddie’s injury, none of us wanted to be the guy to not step up. We’d have to steel ourselves and really bear down, if we wanted to make a game of it. We may not have won a single game yet, but we had an opportunity to close out the tournament with one.
In this situation, we’d need to alter our strategy if we wanted to win, and I had an idea…
To Be Continued…