Monday, December 21, 2009

Happy Holidays

Well, here we are on the doorstep of the Christmas holiday. For the first time since I came here we don't have a game on Christmas Day, which is nice. We have a game tomorrow night, December 22nd, then we're sort of off for 3 days (we have optional ice on the 23rd and 24th) before returning to practice on the 26th (that's Boxing Day, for you north-of-the-border dwellers). Then we jump on the bus bright and early on the 27th to head for Knoxville for a 5pm game, which is only fair considering that they've had to come here on Christmas Day for the last 2 years.
So, that's the week ahead. Now for the past 2 weeks. When I last blogged, we were in Fayetteville a day early because we had no practice ice in Columbus. We played the Fireantz on Friday night (Dec. 3rd), winning 3-2. The game really wasn't as close as that until the very end. We dominated the game and were cruising to a 2-0 win until the last 2 minutes. After getting caught with a tired line out on the ice after an icing call, we were unable to clear the zone after the ensuing faceoff and Fayetteville kept pressure on us until they finally found the back of the net with under a minute and a half remaining. That's the worst feeling when you have a nice comfortable 2-goal lead and they score to cut it to one. All of a sudden any little bounce or any little mistake can tie the game. Anything can happen in a goal-mouth scramble, and your nice comfortable cruise to victory suddenly feels like you're walking on pins and needles. You've given them momentum (which can be an invaluable weapon), and you've hamstrung yourself. It's hard to describe what goes through your mind at moments like this. Your grip gets a little tighter on the stick, your heart beats just a little bit faster, your breath hangs in your're right on the verge of panic. You try to fight the feeling, but there's no stopping it. Well that's where we were on this night. We were mad because we let Vigier down on his shutout bid (he has yet to record one this season, but probably has deserved 2 or 3), but more than that we were terrified of losing the lead. Well aware that one tiny mistake can make the difference in the game at this point, your only thought is not to be the guy that makes that mistake. And that's how they get you.

But not on this night. Luckily, after the Antz pulled their goalie for the extra attacker, Jeff Martens got the puck with a clear lane and he fired it down the ice into the empty net, giving us a 2-goal lead once again. It's a good thing, too. With under a minute left the Antz threw the puck at the net and got a weird deflection on a seemingly harmless play. Before anybody knew what was happening, the puck was in the back of the net. We fought off one last surge and held on for a 3-2 victory. It wasn't pretty, but we'll take it.

After the game, we returned to Columbus with no practice ice for the next few days. After a few gym days for the players, we packed up and headed to Huntsville a day early, as we had to Fayetteville the previous week. We were to play there on Thursday, but went up on Wednesday to practice on their ice. Again, it's not an ideal situation, but sometimes you just have to play the cards that are dealt to you. We got into the Von Braun Center in the midst of massive construction. A cloud of concrete dust hung in the air (which was also saturated with diesel fumes) during our practice. We battled through the haze and had a pretty decent practice before retiring to the hotel for the evening. There wasn't much to do at the hotel, so we pretty much just took it easy, which is probably a good thing.

We got up for the morning skate on Thursday rested and ready to go. We knew this was a big game, against the top team in the league. We got in a nice light skate, then headed back to the hotel for a team lunch. We had what I believe was our first shoe-check of the season, which is always a good icebreaker. The boys seemed pretty loose and relaxed.

The boys started arriving around 4:30pm. That's the thing about having the hotel right across the street...while it's convenient for me to be able to walk back to the rink instead of cabbing it, it also means that the players can come over whenever they feel like it. I don't really like that. When they have to ride the bus I have a good idea when they're going to walk through the door, so I know how much time I have to finish setting up. When they can come over on their own, I have to plan on being ready earlier, which kind of throws my whole routine off. I don't like it when guys show up and the room's not set up yet. It's like letting them see the man behind the curtain. When all goes as planned, the players walk in and the room is just magically ready to go...jerseys neatly hung, equipment stalls straightened, laundry passed out (See the picture from my last blog. That's what I want them to see when they walk in the room). I don't like when they walk in and catch me still doing it. It's not really a big deal, but I like for them to see it all set up and ready when they walk in.

Anyway, the guys showed up and went into their usual routines. This varies from player to player but may include grabbing a cup of coffee, reading the press notes, going to the training room for treatment, listening to their ipod, stickhandling out on the ice, kicking a soccer ball around to loosen up...any number of things. Whatever it takes each guy to get into the right frame of mind to play the game. Each guy has his routine and sticks to it like sap to a tree. I don't want to say that hockey players are superstitious, but most guys are fanatical about their pre-game routine.

We went out and played one of our best games of the year and after 65 minutes of hockey we were tied 1-1. We went to the shootout and it just wasn't Vigier's night. He got beaten by all 4 shots he faced and we lost the shootout 4-2 (for a final score of 2-1 SO). I felt so bad for Ian. I think he really felt like he had let his team down and he took it pretty hard. The truth is he played well to get us to the shootout. If you think about it, we played the best team in the league dead-even for 65 minutes of hockey. We didn't get the win, but at least we got a point for the shootout loss.

We came back home after the game and prepared to meet the Knoxville Ice Bears at the Civic Center on Friday and Saturday nights. We had an optional practice in the morning, then the boys went home to rest up for the game. We came out hard and built up a 3-1 lead. Knoxville battled back and tied the game midway through the third, but Tim Green netted the game-winner with about 2 and 1/2 minutes remaining to seal the win.

Saturday night the teams battled back and forth exchanging goals and leads all the way through. With the clock winding down below the 2 minute mark, Frank Furdero (who had been strangely quiet the whole game) took matters into his own hands. He scored the tying goal with just over a minute left, then stunned the crowd with the overtime winner. He skated to center ice and struck a pose, and I'm a little upset that somebody didn't grab him and pummel him on the spot. That's a bush-league, hot dog move, and he shouldn't be doing that. Maybe in front of the home crowd, but not in our barn. I hope our boys remember that when we see them again. We owe him one, in my opinion.

Anyway, while we're a little disappointed that we gave up the late lead on Saturday, all in all it was a pretty good weekend. We took 4 out of 6 points, and moved up in the standings from 5th place to 3rd. It wasn't a great weekend, but a good one.

After the weekend (and a much-needed day off), we were actually able to get back into a normal routine. With practice ice available Monday through Wednesday, we set ourselves to the task of preparing for our next game Saturday at Pensacola. We boarded the bus at 12:30pm Saturday and headed for the beach. I love the day trips like this one. First of all, we travel lighter because I don't need to bring a lot of the extra stuff I would for a longer trip. Aside from that, most of my work is done before we leave, so once we load up the bus I'm on the R.E.W. list (Ride, Eat, Watch***). I can relax on the bus, watch a movie (this trip it was "The Hangover"), listen to my ipod...just chill. We got off the bus, unloaded and got ready for the game.

The Snakes took the lead late in the first period, then the Ice Flyers answered early in the second. We just couldn't seem to get things going. After the tying goal, we seemed to be playing not to lose, rather than playing to win. We stopped hitting and the Flyers started swarming all over us. We were really back on our heels for most of the second period and most of the third. The Flyers exploded with 3 goals in less than 4 minutes, and it started to look ugly. The boys didn't quit and we battled back with a 3-goal outburst of our own, tying the game with the extra attacker on the ice for Vigier. We tied the game with less than 7 seconds remaining.

Each team could have won the overtime 5 or 6 times over. Both goalies stood on their heads to keep the game alive. Vigier made some unbelievable acrobatic saves to keep us in the game. After a scoreless overtime period, it was time for another shootout. It came down to the last shooter, but they got the best of us. Still, we got a point that we all realize we didn't deserve. Sometimes that's just how it goes. Lord knows we've lost a few that we should have won. Maybe this was just Karma paying us back for one that they owe us. In any case, we'll take the point. We are now 3-0-3 in our last 6 games, for 9 out of a possible 12 points. Again, it's not bad but it's also not great.

Now it's time to see what Santa has in store for us this week. Happy Holidays everybody! Go Snakes!

***R.E.W. was paraphrased from Barney Slayton.

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