By Collin Insley, Staff Writer
For as long as the NHL Lockout lasts, I’ll be using this space to report on my beer league roller hockey team’s weekly games. Follow me on twitter @SoCalPuck for even more exclusive content.
Hockey is fun. Watching it, playing it, talking it – it’s all fun. This much we can all, I hope, agree on. However, as far as beer league hockey goes, sometimes it’s more fun than other times. Yes, yes, yes: we play for the love of the game and every time you get to lace ‘em up is an opportunity to be cherished, and yada, yada, yada. This is all true. But…
Some games are just more fun than others. Case in point: the juxtaposition between last week’s game and this week’s. As a quick refresher, we dominated Yellow Team to the tune of 14-5, in a game that was never really even close. As a result, it just wasn’t very much fun.
The same cannot be said about this past week’s game against Wolfpack. What a doozy that one was!
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Coming into the game, Wolfpack was nipping at our heels, tied with us for second place with an identical 6-2 record. We controlled the tie breaker by virtue of our better goal differential (+17 to their +11), but in a reality where a stat like goal differentials can be inflated or deflated by a variety of factors including comparative ease of schedule, the use of ringers (both for your team and against your team), and how many times throughout the season your team has had a full bench, not a lot of meaning should be attributed to the use of the statistic – especially when the difference between the two differentials is a whopping six.
The point is, based on the standings and all things being equal, a game between Motley Crew and Wolfpack should have been very evenly matched, making for a highly entertaining contest – and was it ever.
Both teams came out strong and although Wolfpack jumped out to a lead early, we scratched and clawed our way back to make it a game.
About midway through the second period, we found ourselves down 4-1. We weren’t supporting Andrew enough, and although we were moving the puck well, we seemed hesitant to actually put it on net. Our biggest team miscue came as a result of a miscommunication between Jamie and myself.
Jamie collected the puck behind our own net and started to break out of our zone. Instead of providing deep support in the center of our slot, I (rather curiously) curled around the perimeter of the rink. As soon as Jamie encountered the first forechecker, and having no outlet options, he dropped the puck to where I should have been – providing deep support. This resulted in a clean breakaway for that forechecker, and their 4th goal of the game – a sloppy play on both our parts.
But then our captain stepped up. Jon began to bark at us to shoot the puck, and in an effort to lead by example, he started to fire the puck at their goalie from all angles. After all, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take…some famous hockey guy said that once…
And as soon as Jon started shooting with abandon, well wha’dya know, the goals started adding up rather quickly. For example, I had found that this goalie had trouble controlling shots directed at him from a severe angle, so more than a few times, I tried to use my speed to drive wide and throw shots into his pads from an acute angle relative to the goal line. On one such play, I put a backhand on net and instead of absorbing the shot, their goalie let the puck drop down from his leg pads and land in his feet. As we’re all taught to do, I followed my shot and when their defender (around whom I had driven wide) didn’t tie up my stick, I banged the rebound home for my first of the game.
That got the ball rolling, so to speak.
Jon started to take over the game, scoring a total of four goals, including the eventual game winner on a power play (our first and only of the game), to lead us to a hard fought come-from-behind win.
The aforementioned game winner was really a thing of beauty. We had been on the receiving end of a few questionable penalties over the course of the game, but hadn’t gotten the benefit of so much as a single call – I knew that that had to change at some point, and late in the 3rd period, with the score deadlocked at five apiece, it did.
Sensing that the Wolfpack players on the rink were low in energy, I carried the puck out of our zone with a backchecker on my tail the whole time. He probably would have caught me had he not been gassed, but he wound up taking a hooking penalty, and we went to the power play with a chance to go ahead. I stayed on and was joined by Jon, Greg, and Aaron Delfs. I normally play the point on the power play (have for years, even when I primarily played even strength as a forward), but over the course of the man advantage, we started a rotation that soon enough placed me right in the crease, in front of their goalie.
Aaron had the puck along the half boards and found a soft spot in the coverage to get the pill to Jon in the slot. He took his opportunity and buried a low, hard snap shot right past my leg and through their helpless goalie. Gorgeous!
All we had to do was hang on for the last minute, or so.
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Hockey coaches often say that they prefer having players on their team who hate losing more than they love winning. I understand the sentiment on some level (I, myself, have written about how much I hate to lose in other spaces), but I don’t know that it has a strong place in beer league hockey. Winning feels good, period. And losing…well, no one likes it, but I don’t know many beer league guys who let a loss eat away at them for more than a few hours, whereas the high of a good win can last for days.
We’re ultimately playing for fun and recreation, yes, but show me a hockey player without a competitive fire, and I’ll show you a hockey player not worth a damn. The atmosphere in our locker room after our victory against Wolfpack was infectious. We all felt pretty damn good about ourselves – not because we had thoroughly dominated another team as we had the week prior, but because we had played an evenly matched foe who jumped out to an early lead, which provided us an opportunity to come together and persevere as a team unit, and earn the two points.
Earn is the key word there, by the way. We earned it because we worked hard, and that, ultimately, is what feels so darn good. Hard work is rewarding, and beer league hockey, as in many facets of life, serves as a constant reminder of this. Also: it’s a whole heckuva lot of fun.