Turns out our first game is at a complex about 20 minutes from our hotel in East Aurora, NY. The rink is the rink that was used at the Winter Classic. We consolidate cars a bit. I take on the goalie, (Brian) and his girlfriend (Christina). All the gear fits, unsurprisingly. It’s a chilly night in Western NY when we get there. Our locker rooms, it turns out are heated sheds. Everybody starts gearing up and our final team member, Cory, joins us. Cory participated in another fun tournament we had in jersey associated with our goalie’s webcomic: The Stabley Cap. You can find it on facebook. Cory’s arrival signifies the team all together for the first time. My pregame speech is brief and is mostly a warning to the guys that this is not like our bottom tier league back home, these guys are going to be able to skate and we have to be prepared for that.
I made my lineups, putting Cory, Ryan and Leo together as I figured they were the best skaters. I had never seen Leo play with people who could skate with him, so I wanted to see what would happen if he got linemates that played his pace. Josh was a game time decision, as he had come down with a fever. Normally I would use him as a center, but his illness meant he’d have substantially less endurance. Thus I put the ever eager Albert playing center between Josh and Alan. Defense was Pete, Eric and the Nicks; all usual suspects for me. That said, we took to the ice.
I didn’t know there was a door into the bench from the side so I had to walk out.
That’s me with the construction overalls and the backpack.
The game started out poorly for us. In the opening period they put away 5 goals, storming out to a 5-0 lead. Cory, Ryan and Leo looked ok as did Pete and Eric, but everyone else seemed to have not been prepared for the level of speed and competition we were facing. A bit of talk and a bit of guidance saw us battle back in the next 2 periods. We were still outscored by an additional 6-4, and at one point were down 8-1 At this point though, the opposing team pulled back on the gas a bit, while our first line really started clicking together. Nick N, Albert and Alan all started to find their legs and elevate their level of play also.
Alan, in particular was like a sponge and seemed to be taking in every shift and trying to learn something from each shift. Playing against people who are dominating you gives you a unique opportunity if you reach out and grasp it. Instead of resigning to defeat, this team kept digging down on every shift trying to pull a positive from each one. It’s a value that as a coach, you really try to instill into players. The score says the game is over, but we’ve still got to finish it out, so find something to play for and go for it.
It got a little chippy, but stayed mostly under control and they were gracious victors. Our team entered the locker room, having lost, but not unexpectedly. We had another game at 10:40 that evening, and many of the guys were already exhausted. On the locker room radio I played Christmas Music while jokingly saying “Losers get Christmas Music.” In spite of an 11-4 plastering the mood was still good and spirits were still high. Our next game was against another team from New Jersey. We were looking forward to having a battle for Jersey up in cold Buffalo.