Despite Andrew Gordon’s ace tying goal in third period, the Hershey Bears fell to the Texas Stars in a 4-3 stunner last night. The Bears now trail in the series 2-0 and must play the next three games in Stars country. Andrew shares his thoughts about the loss and provides an ice-level perspective on frustration, the team’s identity, and the key to victory.
The words ringing through my head tonight are the same ones Chris Bourque joked about with a wry smile right before we stepped on the ice tonight for warm-up: “How about you write a happy blog for tomorrow?”
Sorry, Chris; that’s not happening. When I signed up to write these entries after each game, I thought it would be fun to let everybody in on the dressing room celebrations and talk about the players who were playing great. Instead, I feel like I’m venting my own frustrations. This isn’t the way I intended my blog to be, but this isn’t the way I intended the series to be either.
Today was a different beast than game one. On Thursday we went through the feeling-out process of a new team, and learned a bit about what we were up against. The Stars are a strong defensive team with good goaltending, and they take a lot of pride in blocking shots. That’s a tough combination for a team like us who plays a high-octane, offensive style. After watching tape the coaches made a few alterations to our game plan, and we set off into game two with a different outlook. I had no doubt that we would win tonight’s game.
Somewhere along the line, we let things slip. We played a very uncharacteristic game in my opinion. Each time we captured the momentum, we would shoot ourselves in the foot and go back to square one. Although the effort was there, it seemed like we let our emotions take control at times, and at this point in the season too much raw emotion can hurt you. As a player, you want to be in the game. Coaches use the term emotionally attached to describe the way they want their players to feel throughout all three periods. It’s about caring what happens on the ice, and although it sounds simple, it’s not always the case. Try being emotionally attached to the last game of the regular season after winning the conference three months prior, and then driving four hours on the bus to play in an empty building in Syracuse. Not an easy feat. Tonight it was as if we were too emotionally involved in the game. Our guys would get upset at their players for yapping at our bench or want to get back at a player that did something to one of us earlier, or even waste our energy pleading with the officials. (Might I add that in NO WAY was the outcome of the game changed by the referee or linesmen. They call what they see.) These aren’t traits of a focused team. This is what happens when things aren’t coming easy.
When frustration sets in, you act differently. You become more aware of what the players around you are doing instead of what YOU are supposed to be doing. You are willing to break the game plan and skate yourself out of position in order to hit somebody. You become unwilling to take a hit, a slash, or a cross check without lashing back in retaliation. Every player has been guilty of this at some point in their careers (myself included), but the timing tonight was unfortunate. I remember doing an interview after Adirondack snapped our 24-game win streak at home about how they seemed to have success against us all year. I talked about how they played a chippy, mouthy game that got under our skin and drove us to act out of character. When we played against them, we weren’t the Bears; we became a team of 20 individuals who didn’t control our passion.
During the course of a season, the team builds an identity. It’s your coaching staff’s job to tailor your game plan to fit the identity you have established. Our game is hard-working, fast, and skilled. Without compromising anything defensively, we need to use our skill and speed to our advantage. That’s who we are and what has got us this far. But whenever we played the Phantoms, we got away from that and became undisciplined, allowing them to play their game better than we were playing ours. The best team won’t win every night if they don’t bring the right attitude to the rink. It would be like telling the Oilers in the 80’s to change their game to mimic the Broad Street Bullies. They wouldn’t have won all those Stanley Cups if they changed themselves; that’s for sure. That’s how I felt leaving the rink tonight. It was like we let the Stars under our skin at key points in the game, and allowed them to change our identity into something we’re not.
For me, the focus heading into game three is remembering who we are. It’s easy to say things like forget about tonight and move forward, but if we haven’t learned from the times we failed, we will have a tough time finding ways to succeed. Playing the way we have played all year is the key. That, combined with a little extra discipline and mental toughness, will keep us in this series. We remember what we feel like after these two losses, but we won’t let a couple of bad breaks cloud our vision.
Moving on, I’m excited to see what the arena in Austin is going to be like. I hear lots of good things. For me, there is always something fun about playing in a building for the first time. I’m hoping the ice conditions are as good as they have been in Hershey these last two games. I hear it’s going to be steaming hot down there! My last Texas hockey experience in San Antonio and Houston last season wasn’t a good one, so I’m hoping to have some better days this trip.
“It’s easy to have faith in yourself and have discipline when you’re a winner, when you’re number one. What you got to have is faith and discipline when you’re not a winner.” – Vince Lombardi
Thank you for your time! See you in Texas!
Yours in hockey,