John Carlson’s third period goal lifted the Bears to a pivotal win over the Texas Stars. The series is now tied at 2-2 with only one game remaining in Texas. Andrew Gordon reflects on the meaning of last night’s win, a few differences between the NHL and the AHL, and the tribulations of team sports.
Tonight is a new night, and we can all breath a little easier. Going down 3-1 is pretty much the same as going down 3-0 in my opinion, so tonight was as much of a must win as Monday.
When we left Hershey, our focus was winning our way home. We wanted to take a minimum of two games in Texas to assure there would be at least one more game back in Hershey. After learning from our experience in the first two games, we felt we would me be a much different team if we could return home for game six. We have achieved that little goal through these two games in Austin, and with a third game still to play we may be able to return home on the verge of a Championship! That’s a drastic shift from the attitude last week.
It’s a strange road we’ve been on. Rarely in the playoffs do you see the home team struggle the way both teams have in this series. Having home ice has hardly been an advantage for either squad. As a road team going into an opponent’s building, the objective is always to take one win with you when you leave. You obviously want to win every game, and you prepare to do just that, but a split on the road is considered a victory for the visitors. In the NHL, winning at home is practically mandatory, but it’s even more important in the AHL because of the way each series is scheduled. In the NHL, you never spend more than two games in a row on the road, but in a 2-3-2 scenario (as we have here), losing those home games can be devastating. Losing game one and/or game two then heading on the road gives your opponent momentum and a chance to win at home. That’s what we did over the last week: dig ourselves a hole in Hershey, then force ourselves to climb out of it in Texas.
FUN FACT: No team has ever lost the first two games at home in the finals, then gone on to win the Calder Cup. History could be made?
The last two games have been far from easy, as I’m sure the Stars would agree. But we showed resolve in games three and four, and now we’re right back in the driver’s seat. Aside from the road team winning every game so far, I think this is exactly how a championship series is supposed to be played. Both teams are playing hard, physical, and clean hockey and making the other earn every inch of ice. Other than game three, where we opened things up a bit in the third, every game has been a one-goal game determined by a big play late in regulation. It’s rare to see a sweep in the finals at any level, and this is no different.
Looking ahead to game five, we think the pressure falls on the Stars. Where they once were filled with confidence, they now must be feeling some doubt. Where we once were unsure of ourselves, we have found strength in our game plan and our ability to execute it. We have stuck together when things didn’t look so good, and now we find ourselves on the brink of putting the other team against the ropes, and together we are starting to play some much better hockey. It might not be said out loud, but it’s as if there is something different in the air between the four walls of our dressing room.
I can remember after losing a game earlier on in the season (I honestly can’t recall if it was this year or last). Afterwards, Bryan Helmer and I were talking about the emotional rollercoaster that sports straps you into. “Nothing else in the world can make you feel this bad,” I remember him saying, and he was completely right. Sports seem to bring out a host of feelings that you don’t find anywhere else. Winning brings an unbelievable high, and losing sinks you to an astonishing low. I think the desire to win doesn’t have as much to do with the scoreboard as it does the feeling you have gliding off the ice and into the dressing room. It’s a feeling of satisfaction that you won’t get elsewhere.
Keep in mind that I haven’t ever played any individual sports (aside from golf, which I’m miserable at), but I think it’s being part of a team that makes you feel that way. When you win, you win together. When you lose, you feel like you’re letting your teammates down. Everything you sense- you share with the 20+ guys around you which amplifies whatever you are feeling. Both good and bad feelings are contagious, and right now, confidence is spreading around our locker room like wildfire.
As a team, our confidence comes from 20 individuals playing well and doing whatever it takes to make the team successful. The different roles players assume should get more attention, but it always gets pushed aside behind all the goals and assists. The interviews you see on TV and the quotes in the paper come from the guys who score those big goals or make the big saves, but for a team to win there is a lot more that must happen. There are guys on our team like Andrew Joudrey and Boyd Kane, who may only have a couple points in the playoffs, but are playing crucial roles for us. These are the guys blocking shots on the penalty kill and winning key face-offs in the defensive zone. These things don’t always get talked about, but on the bench and in the dressing room those guys get just as much praise as a guy with three goals. Little things are important in the playoffs, and those little things should be recognized. Things that might go unnoticed in a regular season game like a good back-check, a chipped puck out of our zone, or a smart line change can draw as much attention from the team as a goal from the highlight reel. A winning team knows that any play can impact the game, and without those character guys doing a lot of the grunt work, the team would never find itself in a position to score winning goals at all. Recognizing these plays is part of coming together as a team and respecting the fact that without everyone pulling on that rope together, we won’t go anywhere.
Although the season is almost at an end, we are still growing and learning what it takes to win. In the playoffs, each day is a new fight. You need your teammates. If you don’t win as a team, you will fall apart as individuals. Every winning team is– first and foremost– a team.
“When a team outgrows individual performance ans learns team confidence, excellence becomes a reality” -Joe Paterno
Thank you for your time. Special thanks to all those who made the trip to Texas!
Yours in hockey,