Tuesday, March 1, 2016

(Almost) Championship Weekend

Two weeks back we had a killer weekend of hockey and N's team came away with some pretty big wins. Enough to place the team into the championship final for the state in two weeks. How cool is that? What makes this even cooler, if such things were possible, is that they are seeded in the AA division, which is the highest designation for the state in youth hockey. The significance of this cannot be overstated because I think I was told this is the first time our organization is in the finals as a AA team, and truth be told, nobody on this team would have believed we'd be in this position at the beginning of the season. More on this later. Suffice it to say that whatever happens this coming weekend, the kids are champions and should be proud of what they've accomplished.

We entered into the playoff weekends probably as underdogs for a number of reasons. First off, as I mentioned, it is unusual for us to be competing at this level. Second, our organization is small, with about 80 kids total. We were competing against organizations in much bigger cities that have 250-300 kids. That's a huge difference. And finally, we had played the four other teams in the playoffs and only beaten one. The other two had beaten us, and the other we had tied. Historically speaking, it wasn't looking good for us. However, it is worth noting that when we lost to these teams, our team was in a bit of disarray with injuries and illness, my son included.

Okay, there is one more reason that the odds were against us, and that's the makeup of the team. We have 16 skaters, which is a lot, and there are several of these kids who would probably benefit from playing on a house team. One or two is playing hockey for the first time. Now keep in mind, we are playing teams from big programs that have tryouts and then create 2-3 teams. Their AA teams are made up of AA players, and A or B players play on their respective teams. When you play them they are throwing 2-3 lines of AA players at you. We, on the other hand, do not have tryouts and all players, from AA to B, play on the team. Throw in the fact that the coach wants to make sure that everyone gets some ice time, and you have a pretty interesting dynamic out there. There are times you have a AA line going against our 4th line, and believe me, all hell breaks loose. Personally, I think our defense plays a role in keeping it all together, but more on that later..

Anyway, this weekend we were not the favorites, but we like being the underdogs. We beat a strong Burlington team in our first game, believe me when I tell you they were pissed off. They clobbered us in our first meeting, and I would say that we controlled the game. Afterward we went back to the hotel for a nice lunch and some relaxation before our next game. For the second game we played St. Albans, who had lost both of their games by large margins. We clearly took the for granted because they took it to us and beat us handily. The score was only 2-1, but we were never in control. It was, however, a good wakeup call.

We were in a must win situation for the next two games. We didn't want to end up the 4th seed and play the #1 seed in the semis. The goal was to end up the 2nd or 3rd seed and get a rematch with Burlington, who probably had the same thing in mind. Nobody wanted to face the #1 seed this weekend. That night the kids had a real blast swimming and relaxing, and we made sure to eat a nice meal and get plenty of rest. The next morning we went to the arena and beat Barre fairly soundly, 3-0. Back to the hotel for lunch/rest, and then to the arena for the big rematch with Burlington. I have to confess, I was a little nervous.

The kids, however, played great. They had their destiny in their hands, there wasn't any hoping this team lost or this team won, it all cut and dry - win two games and they were in. And that's exactly what they did. They had to beat Barre to get the 2nd or 3rd seed. Lost to Barre and risk becoming the 4th seed and playing Essex, who is pretty formidable. With the Barre win, it was Burlington standing in the way of a game with Essex in the final, and the kids did a great job. I don't know if I'd go as far as to say they controlled the game, but it was close to that. Once they went up 2-0, they protected the lead and won 4-1. It was a pretty exciting game and the kids, parents, and coaches were stoked.

Now we have two weeks off until the final. Whatever happens from here on in is not as important as the fact that the kids made it this far and have played amazing hockey. It's been a lot of fun and it's been nice being a part of it, even though I'm still pretty clueless out there on the ice. I compensate by yelling louder.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Michael Beck for the pic.

No comments: