SEVENTH HEAVEN?

 

The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat – at this time of year, the emotions are high and low, and this is just me.  I can’t even imagine what the players must experience on a daily basis.  To go so far, to be on the winning end must be a high I can’t even imagine (but used to experience almost yearly), and to lose in the seventh and deciding game – almost as if somebody ripped out my beating heart and held it in front of my face.

In any event – the Carolina Hurricanes can finally lay claim to the hardest trophy to win in any sport – the Stanley Cup.  I said they’d be back, and here they are on top of the world.  Congratulations on winning the first Cup of the new NHL era.  And congratulations to the Edmonton Oilers for taking out three top teams in convincing fashion, and for coming back from both a 2-0 and 3-1 series deficits in the finals to force a seventh and deciding game, which for all intents and purposes could have gone either way.  And thanks for making this season more fun than any in recent memory.  It was a hell of a ride I must say.  If I’ve learned anything I guess be careful what I wish for, or write about for that matter.

So after losing a year to the NHL lockout and after new rules opened the game on the ice, and the latest playoff ever, was it worth it?  They promised us fans and commentators they would fix the game.  Did they?  In hindsight, I say for sure.  The game is much better.  They promised consistency in officiating, and for the most part, they delivered (as always I have a few bones to pick, but whatever, I’ll leave it alone for now).  With a solid salary structure, they promised a level playing field.  Well we witnessed a final series featuring the second place team in the East up against the eighth place team in the West.

Why then, if my favorite game ever is better than ever, do I feel so terrible today?

Perhaps it’s because the greatest season in recent memory is over after what seemed like an eternity (even though in reality the time has gone by faster than I can keep track of it).  It’s like the vacation you planned for months.  You went, you saw, and now you’re back to work.  Maybe it’s the fact the one team I’ve followed more than any other was but one victory away from their first Stanley Cup in 16 years.  I’m not embarrassed to say it, and those who know me best know today is not a good day for me.  I’ve been on board for the roller coaster ride and now the ride has ended with an abrupt halt, as I knew it would, but it’s still hard to swallow.  Or even still, maybe it’s the fact the greatest game ever played on skates is still not getting the exposure it deserves, and unless you live in Raleigh or Edmonton, the vast majority of people south of the 49th parallel could care less.  NBC may say the finals garnered better ratings than we’ve seen in years, but personally I think the numbers are slightly inflated.

I tuned into about four sports talk shows since the end of the game, Sports Byline included, and with the exception of one Jim Rome, the Game 7 result was barely mentioned, and when it was, there wasn’t much more said than what we already know.

What’s the best way to describe how I feel right now?  Think back to your first lover, I’m talking about the high school or college sweetheart – the one who broke your heart so bad you thought you might die before you’d ever move on and meet someone new.  The emotions are up and down.  You feel like you want to laugh, you feel like you want to cry, you feel extreme pride for having been given the opportunity to experience what you just went through, and at the same time, you feel very happy for those who were on the other side of it – the best friend the first love left you for in the first place.  Well, maybe not.

As I said – this is just me feeling like this.  How can the players possibly feel?  I know it’s their job and livelihood so they’re probably conditioned to deal with it better than the average sports fan.  I think of the scene from the movie “Fever Pitch”, where they’re in the restaurant and see Johnny Damon and a few other Red Sox players having dinner and just enjoying life away from the playing field, almost as if nothing happened.  What happens on the field, or on the ice, stays there, or so they’d like us to believe.  I know better.

I know just like the first love, I’ll get over it and move on.  The awards ceremony will present itself, the draft will come and go, and before I know it we’ll be starting over again on a new season (as of this writing, only 82 days left until training camp).  The whole “maybe next year” mentality will come to the forefront.

Fans of every team (and every sport) go through this at one time or another.  When there can only be one champion a year, it’s just natural.  You get excited beyond belief, even if your team has no chance of even winning one playoff game.  The longer your team lasts, the more excitement builds, and just when you may have accepted the inevitable is coming, they throw you for a loop and win another game or two, or even another series, or two.

Living in Ottawa, I get to witness what has become a rite of spring when the Senators get eliminated.  A local radio host, Chumley Brock, otherwise known on the radio as J.R., hosts the “all-night wake”.  Essentially he lets the fans call in and vent as long as they want to, with only one rule – no swearing.  This year they were still on the air almost 24 hours after the puck dropped on Game 5 of the Buffalo series.  I fell asleep about six hours in.  It’s become such a big show and unfortunately such a big part of talk radio in Ottawa, they even have sponsors on board.  Next time the all-nighter is necessary they’re planning on implementing a special e-mail address just for the occasion (and they’re not joking).  I can only imagine the scene is similar in just about every other city with a major sports team.  Talk radio has become a cheap substitute for a shrink.  It’s almost comical when you think about it, but I can relate big time.

I didn’t bother looking for the post game show in Edmonton, but I hope the fans calling in showed the same class they showed throughout 24 playoff games (a few idiots on Whyte Avenue excluded from the mix). 

University of Alberta sports psychologist Billy Strean offered his insight and put what many fans go through after their team loses into perfect perspective.

“For most people there's a period of mourning.  People should allow themselves that. For some people they'll move on 30 minutes after the game, but for those who have been waiting 16 years (or longer) it's a big disappointment.  If your biggest problem is that your favorite hockey team lost, you're living a good life.”  No arguments or complaints from me.

As a colleague of mine keeps saying, and as I keep telling myself, there’s no shame in losing to the champions.  Short of a couple of large coffees with cream only, it’s about the only thing getting me through the day.  I do know this - if I never hear that damn Scorpions song again it will be too soon.  I’m guessing it will be high on the request list in Raleigh, along with Shaggy’s “Oh Carolina” and Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline”, while Edmonton won’t get enough of Abba’s “Fernando”.

I said it for Carolina four years and three seasons ago, and I’ll definitely say it for Edmonton – they will be back, oh yes, they will be back.  There’s a reason Chris Pronger signed a five year contract, and it certainly wasn’t to watch Justin Williams score an empty netter.  If Kevin Lowe knows what’s good for him, he’ll sign Dwayne Roloson to a multi-year contract within the next 72 hours.

A FEW QUICKIES…

By the time you read this, Joe Sakic will have signed on for at least one more year with the Colorado Avalanche.  What I’m still waiting for is Steve Yzerman’s decision for next season.  In all likelihood he will retire, but who knows?

The rumors never stop flying, even while hockey is still being played.  I never like reporting on them unless they’re from a credible source, but this one has come up too often to ignore.  In an attempt to bring back some offensive flair to New Jersey, there’s talk Patrick Elias would like nothing more than to play with Martin Havlat on his wing.  What makes sense about this rumor is Ottawa will be looking to sign many players, most importantly Zdeno Chara and Wade Redden.  While they’d like to sign them both, how do they keep under the cap and keep all of the core pieces together without letting go of at least one high priced star?  There’s talk Scott Gomez or Brian Gionta could be offered up in what could be John Muckler’s blockbuster trade of the year (Dany Heatley anyone?).  But then I got to thinking – what if the Senators let either Chara or Redden (or both) walk and then try to entice Elias to come up north?  Whether or not it puts the Senators over the top will remain to be seen.  I’ll believe it when I see it.

Speaking of Redden, I know Ottawa fans will hate me for this, but I’ll uncharacteristically start a rumor of my own.  Sadly, his mother passed away during the playoffs, and he’s made no secret of the fact he wouldn’t mind being closer to home to spend more time with his family in Lloydminster, Saskatchewan.  Given what he’s been through in Ottawa with all the early playoff exits, I’m sure he feels he has some unfinished business to handle, but don’t be too surprised if he’s offered and accepts a substantial contract with one of either Calgary, Edmonton or even Vancouver.  As for Chara, he will be highly coveted by a few teams as well.  The one thing Ottawa never seems to have a shortage of are defensemen, as shown with their recent signing of Andy Hedlund who played three seasons for Binghamton before playing in Sweden last year.

Word out of Florida sends Roberto Luongo to Detroit for Pavel Datsyuk.  I don’t know about that one.  Do the Red Wings really want (or need) the extra baggage?

If the NHL wants to improve upon the rule changes for this year, they can start by modifying one of them – the delay of game puck over the glass rule.  Call it the same way you’d call icing – meaning the players can’t make a line change.  When a few teams make a mistake and give up a game (especially in the playoffs) with tired legs on the ice, they’ll stop doing it quickly enough.  The same goes for the unsportsmanlike hooking/diving plays.  You want higher scoring games?  Why not give the opposing team penalty shots more often for these problematic plays?  I hope the competition committee is listening.  You don’t want to mess with a good thing, though – the main thing is they’ve managed to get the clutching and grabbing out of the game and they’ve neutralized the neutral zone trap.

The NHL Draft this year is considered to be one of the weakest in years, so don’t be surprised if St. Louis trades their top draft pick for a goaltender.  They have a nice mix of young players who can score.  If they can ever stop the puck, they’ll be right back in the playoff race.  Needless to say, don’t expect to see Patrick Lalime’s name in any trade rumors anytime soon.

With the NHL off season officially here, there’s no rest for the wicked.  The yearly awards ceremony will be upon as right around the time you get to read this, the NHL Draft gets going in Vancouver, the yearly free agent frenzy kicks off in less than two weeks, and shortly thereafter we should find out just how well the salary cap is actually working.  Before we know it, the season will be starting again.  Thankfully, there is no Olympic break, so we should get to breathe a little bit more, and not end the Stanley Cup final two days before summer officially starts.  For me, as you already read, I am emotionally drained beyond belief, but at the same time I can’t wait to get going on a new season again.

Welcome back NHL, welcome back.

 

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