The game time was awkward. Especially considered those of us on the Canada crew didn’t get back until about 4AM.
A 10:45 AM game played havoc with hotel arrangements. Our checkout time would be while we were at the game. We had too many rooms for them to give us all late checkouts. They did say they could do it for one room though. It should be noted that there were no showers at the Healthy Zone in East Aurora. Because of this, we arranged for the hotel to give us a late checkout so the team could use the large shower in the suite after the game. After alerting the team to this, everyone stored their non-hockey gear in my room, while we loaded up for the 20 minute drive to East Aurora.
We arrived to find no opposing team waiting for us. Were they not coming? It seemed the hosts had no idea. There was conflicting decisions about what to do. The ice was ours, we had paid for the ice time, so some of us were pretty hell-bent that we would use the ice, even if we just had a shoot around. Some players started suiting up, while others waited to see if our opposition showed up.
After a substantial delay, the hosts alerted us that our opponents were indeed coming. They were at the wrong facility. We began to suit up and make the most of our warmup time. I played some music to kill the time while guys trickled onto the ice and the opposing team began to arrive. As soon as they had 5 players dressed and a goalie we started the game. We were starting about half an hour late. Rather than the three, 13 minute periods we had been playing, it was decided to play two, 16 minute halves with no stoppages.
We feared our opposition would come in salty from our previous meeting. Much to our surprise and delight, they did not. Ultimately they fielded a team of about 9 guys and a goaltender, and those that had showed up, had come to play. It was a clean, back and forth game that found itself in a 3-3 tie in the second half.
With about 7 minutes to go it all threatened to come unraveled. With what I can only call a momentary, colossal lapse in judgement, our goaltender chopped the knee of an opposing player. The referee did not see it. No penalty was assessed. As our angered opponents made their way to the bench a “so that’s how it’s gonna be” was heard from them. The entire mood and tempo of the game changed. They started getting chippy. The play had invigorated and encouraged them. Meanwhile our team was now watching their backs and no focusing on the game. That lapse in focus led to a go ahead goal for them briefly after the incident. We were on our heels. A fortunate power play allowed us offensive zone time and at its conclusion, we had an offensive zone faceoff with about 90 seconds to go. I pulled the goalie to the bench for an extra attacker.
I didn’t see the tying goal. I don’t even know how it happened or what play created it. I was too busy going ballistic on the goaltender for creating a situation that put his team at risk and changed the momentum of the game. I had spent the previous 7 minutes slamming sticks, kicking benches and punching glass. I made it quite clear to my team, and the opposing team that his actions had been unacceptable. Over the previous weeks I had tried to make it clear to him that he cannot do these kinds of things. This was not the first time he had done something like this. His timing in this moment was the final straw for me. Maybe my outburst was too much. The gift of hindsight gives me that kind of perspective, but in that moment reason and sense had been replaced by blind rage. In spite of that, we tied the game in the dying seconds.
Our ice time was dwindling. It was decided that the game would be decided by a 1 shooter shoot out. We went first. My decision was easy. Throughout the entire tournament, Cory had been our best individual goal scorer. He had more than 1 move up his sleeve and in a shootout/penalty shot situation, I’d take him against most beer league goalies I have seen. He didn’t disappoint. I wish I had video of it, because it was excellent. The goalie didn’t even have a chance.
Now it was up to the goaltender that I had just spent the last 2 minutes berating. It was his moment to be the hero. He stepped up and delivered one of the best saves he had made all weekend. We had won our final. The team was a combination of elated and relieved. I couldn’t join them. I was still too mad. I did the best I could to avoid them in the team pictures afterwards and in the locker room. I didn’t want my dour demeanor to kill the mood on a win they had earned.
After the game, we all went back to the one hotel room, and turns were taken in the shower. I think they limited one another to 4 minutes each so we would make our checkout time. Throughout the entire experience the Doubletree Hotel we stayed at provided us with excellent service. I had notified them that the team was coming back to use the shower, so they had a pile of towels and toiletries waiting for them. After cleaning up and loading up our cars, we all departed for the long drive back to Jersey.