Well, Game 1 is in the books with a big 'W' for the good guys. If you've read Kathy Gierer's blog you've probably already heard about the team's Viking helmet. It's passed on after each win to the "Warrior of the Game" for that game, from the previous recipient. It's a badge of honor that is worn proudly by each Warrior. It's a way of paying tribute to somebody who may not get the credit, but did something to help the team win. I've seen/heard of quite a few teams who give out a hardhat after each win to the hardest working player of the game. In typical Snakes fashion, we wanted to do something similar...but different. We don't generally go about things in the "normal" way. Our guys like to dance to the beat of their own drummer. That's one of the things I like about this team. So, when a few guys mentioned that they'd like to do something like the "hardest worker" hardhat, it was decided that instead of a construction helmet we should do something a little different. So a couple of guys went out searching for just the right type of helmet...and somehow a Viking helmet seemed appropriate. Nevermind that the nearest known Viking settlements were a couple thousand miles North of Georgia. Nevermind that I don't think we have anybody on the team who is of Scandinavian heritage (Although MacPhee looks the part). None of that matters. What matters is that the Vikings represent the type of spirit that we want our players to embody (minus the raping and pillaging, of course). It is a strong warrior heritage, and that is what we're trying to tap into.
You see, the point of the hardhat award in the first place is to recognize players whose contributions might not always get noticed, but are just as crucial to the team's success. The catalyst to a win might not always be the game-winning goal or a hat-trick. Sometimes it's a fight or a big hit that sparks the team and gets them going. Sometimes it's a key shot block that the guys rally around. Whatever it is, it's something that may not show up on the scoresheet but nonetheless has an impact on our team performance.
After last night's Snakes win, outgoing Warrior Jesse Cole presented the helmet to Snakes forward Mitch Wall. While I don't want to take anything away from Sam Bowles' 3-point performance (2g-1a), I think giving the helmet to Wally last night epitomizes what that award is supposed to signify. To me, the Warrior of the game may not have had the biggest offensive night, but he came up big in some other way and ignited the team. For this reason, Wally was the most deserving hero. He came out hitting everything in sight. He had a little bit of a snarl on and, as I may have mentioned, I think we play better when we do that. I'm fairly certain that Wally plays better when he does that. I'm reminded of an old quote from Fred Shero, who coached the Philadelphia Flyers to 2 Stanley Cup wins in the mid-70s..."Get to the puck first, and arrive in ill humour". That's the key. You have to want that puck. You have to want it more than the other guy so that when you go into the corner after a loose puck you don't pull the chute to avoid getting hit. Instead, you go in there looking for the hit and knowing that you're going to win that battle. Two men go into the corner looking for the puck, but only one comes out with it. That's Hockey. That's how you win...especially in the playoffs. Wally had that last night. It was a thing of beauty to watch. Also a thing of beauty was Wally's goal. He hasn't scored many this year but they've been memorable-none more than this one. He knocked a puck away from a Havoc player in our zone, then raced up ice, beat his man to the puck and went in on a breakaway. He made a nice little move across the front of the net and beat Havoc goalie Mark Sibbald for what would prove to be the game-winning goal. That was a huge lift for us...not just because it gave us a 3-1 lead, but because Wally is not usually the guy you would expect to come up with a nice play like that. Not that he's a slug or anything like that...just that he's normally a keep-it-simple, up and down winger. He's not usually a dangler. But he came up huge when it counted. Good for Wally and good for us.
As for the game itself, I was kind of dreading the trip there. I've been in a couple of practice-rink situations before and they can very easily turn into a complete fiasco. I was concerned about what type of facilities they would have available for us and I was fully prepared to have to do without some things that we would normally have provided for us by the home team. I was somewhat comforted when we pulled up and saw one of the security guards that we recognize from the Von Braun Center. These are good guys and they know what they're doing, so I knew we were in good hands at that point. Then, when we went inside, I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw...a well organized, well planned layout for our locker rooms. They were essentially 4 separate rooms that were all connected by adjoining doorways and a shared bathroom/shower room. We had a separate training room set up for Hannah, and we had plenty of room for our players and for my sharpener and trunk and extra equipment. It was a bit of a scramble to figure out the best places to set up all of our stuff, but that came together pretty quickly thanks to some help from the staff of the Benton H. Wilcoxon Ice Complex. I met Steve Clough, the General Manager of the arena (with whom I had been in contact via e-mail), and he made sure we were well taken care of. I'd like to thank him and his staff, as well as Trainer Bobbi Harman, Equipment Manager Jorge Lopez and the rest of the Havoc staff that put a lot of effort into making everything run as smoothly as possible. They truly made the best of a less-than-ideal situation, and I thank them.
I'd also like to give a shout-out to Tyler McCrea, one of our gameday helpers who made the trip with us and was a huge help. His assistance was invaluable.
With that said, I was a little disappointed by the crowd. The place was very small, with only enough room for maybe 600 people, and there was a lot of space in those bleachers. The crowd was probably only about 400 or so, and they weren't as vocal as I was expecting. Some of the guys were looking forward to playing in the small arena because they said it was like some of the rinks they played in back home in juniors. The crowd really didn't provide much of a "playoff atmosphere".
In any case, our guys stepped up to the challenge and outplayed the Havoc. That's an important step in the right direction. Now we need to win Game 2 to take the next step to round 2. Hope to see you at the Snakepit.