This is my least favorite time of year. Yes, it's spring. And yes, the NHL playoffs are on. But our hockey season is over. Not only does it mean no more games, but it also means much more than that. The rink is now an indoor football field, the players have cleaned out their lockers (prompting the saddest picture I've ever taken, at right), and soon most of them will be heading home for the summer, not to return until October. But some of them won't return at all. The fluid nature of sports dictates that change is inevitable. Even the Championship team will make changes, so it follows that the lesser teams will have to make even more changes just to keep up and catch up. As the old saying goes, "If you're not moving forward, you're falling behind."
That means that when each of these guys says goodbye to me, it may be for the last time. He's leaving for the summer, but he may not be back. I get pretty close to these guys over the course of a season, and it's hard to think of the possibility of never seeing them again. Cleaning out the locker room just emphasizes that. They've packed up their personal belongings to take home with them, and I've packed up the gear to put away until next season. It also means that summer is here and it will be several months before we start up the new season. I try to look forward to next season, but last season is still so fresh in my memory that it's hard to let it go. Over the next couple of weeks, guys will start leaving to make their way back home. The real world awaits, with long-time girlfriends (or fiancees) and summer jobs. For now, however, we're left to ponder what went wrong last year and look forward to the possibilities of next year.
I should take a moment to acknowledge the Huntsville Havoc, who won the SPHL President's Cup, sweeping the Mississippi Surge in the finals, 3 games to none. Two of my former players were with the Havoc; Head Coach Randy Murphy and Defenseman Vladimir Hartinger both played for me with the New Mexico Scorpions. I'm happy for them, but it doesn't lessen the sting of our loss. I would also like to acknowledge a couple of my former players who are still playing in the Central Hockey League playoffs. Goaltender Miguel Beaudry of the Rapid City Rush and Defenseman Erik Adams of the Allen Americans played for me in New Mexico and Forward Scott Wray of the Rush played for me with the Lake Charles Ice Pirates. They begin their final series tomorrow night in Rapid City. Also, in the ECHL conference semifinals, Utah Grizzlies Goaltender Mike Morrison played for me with the ECHL Phoenix Roadrunners the year before I came to Columbus. And finally, in the "IHL" playoffs (just beginning), Port Huron Icehawks Defenseman Daniel Tetrault played for me in New Mexico. In the AHL Calder Cup Playoffs, Manitoba Moose Forward Tom Maxwell played for me with the ECHL Phoenix Roadrunners. And in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Los Angeles Kings Defenseman Sean O'Donnell, Phoenix Coyotes Center Robert Lang, and Pittsburgh Penguins Head Coach Dan Bylsma played for me with the IHL Phoenix Roadrunners. Good luck to all of them.