It was only one week ago that the Hershey Bears won the Calder Cup in a 4-0 rout. It was their second championship in as many years, their third in five years, and the eleventh in franchise history. Andrew Gordon writes to share his thoughts on the championship, the celebration, and what happens now.
Life has a million ways to make you feel good, and a million ways to make you feel miserable. In my 24 years, I have found only one way to feel like a champion (make that two ways now). It’s a feeling that all players at all levels try to put into words but can’t ever find the exact way to express it.
It’s a combination of happiness, excitement, relief, satisfaction, fulfillment and complete bliss all mixed together and topped with a touch of “thank God it’s over.”
A championship win is so much different than a regular-season win because there is nothing left to accomplish after it’s over. There is no refocusing for your next opponent. No pasta meal waiting for you before tomorrow’s game. No more playing through injury or sickness. It’s all over, and you have nothing else to think about. It’s as if half of your brain suddenly has nothing to do, so it just shuts down and lets the 8-year-old in you run wild.
In the championship moment, nothing matters except the guys around you. I know there was some intense crowd noise as the buzzer sounded in Hershey, especially compared winning on the road in Manitoba, but I don’t remember hearing a sound. It is like I blocked out everything else in the building except the pile of players huddled around the crease. As you fly over the bench, all you want is to be there with the boys, celebrating what you have just accomplished.
When my career is over, I might not remember the score of the game, but I’ll always remember the feeling of jumping that bench (and falling on my face, if you watch the tape) and sprinting towards the rest of the guys.
In my three years of pro hockey, I’m not sure if I have ever seen a team play with more fire and determination than we did in game six. It was as if we just decided that enough was enough. We couldn’t let them think they were back in the series, so we had to make a statement in the first period.
I think it was our best period of the year. We won every puck battle, finished every check, shot every puck, and defended with our lives. I don’t know if a single guy made a mistake in that period. After that, it was too late for the Stars.
I truly believe that– the way we played that game– we could have beaten the Leafs, the Oilers, and (for most of the season) the Hurricanes. It was a combination of work and skill that is rarely seen at this level. I think we were virtually unbeatable that night, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
It’s both ironic and fitting that we capped off our last game of the season with another record-breaking performance. In a previous entry, I mentioned my “Fun Fact” of the day– that no team had ever lost games one and two at home in the finals then gone on to win the series. Guess they can erase that one from the AHL color-commentary handbook. But that brings me to another point altogether: HISTORY DOESN’T MATTER!!! Nobody in our dressing room was discouraged by the fact that no team had ever come back from two games down. Who cares if it’s never been done? We aren’t those teams who failed before. We are in control of our own destiny, and we will make it happen our own way.
There is no manual that explains how to win a series. You just win four times before they do.
I remember being interviewed before the playoffs about setting all the team records this year and how I felt knowing that the teams who previously held those wins and points records were upset early in the playoffs. My response: we’re not them. Nothing in the past affects you in the present unless you are too mentally weak to separate the two. Just because something happened the year before doesn’t mean it will happen again. Every season brings a different team with a different outlook and a different identity. No playoffs are ever the same.
That’s why I believe the Caps won’t have a repeat of what happened this year. They had a great team, but couldn’t get a break. It’s a freak occurrence that happens once in a blue moon. It’s sad that it happened to them, but maybe it’s a stepping stone to greater things. I firmly believe that things happen for a reason. It may be hard to understand at the time, but I bet the Caps getting upset in this year’s playoffs lights a fire in them for years to come.
I think the best part of winning a championship is the two hours right after the buzzer sounds. All the players’ families are there on the ice, there are news crews and photographers everywhere. It’s complete mayhem. You can’t stand still for more than five seconds because you are always seeing someone new who you have to go celebrate with. I was fortunate enough to share this win with both my parents who came in from Porters Lake, Nova Scotia. My father was there last year in Winnipeg, but my mother hasn’t seen me play live too often in the past few years, so it was great to have her there on the ice moments after we won. As I always mention, these opportunities don’t come around every year, so having her there to experience the emotion in person meant a lot to me. It’s a memory I’ll never forget, and I’m sure she won’t either.
After the trophy is handed out and the pictures have been taken, the real fun starts. In the dressing room there is nobody but the team and its officials, so we really get to be ourselves and cut loose. This is where the 8-year-old brain I mentioned earlier comes into play. There are bottles of champagne being popped and sprayed all around the room. We had beer, water, Red Bull, Gatorade, and pretty much anything else you can find in an arena fridge being flung around in the air at all times. Guys were strapping on swimming goggles at one point to save themselves from going blind. Where they got them, however, I have no idea. That’s some serious planning ahead if they brought them from home!
|The Hershey Bears drink from the Calder Cup (via The Patriot-News)|
After that, things die down a bit. The team is out of booze since we wasted it all in the first ten minutes. We are soaked in our own sweat and stupidity. And we have to get our gear off and showered up before we get to start sharing more moments with our families again. For me, that’s when it really starts to sink in. I realize that I’m taking my skates off for the last time. There is no more knee pain or cut up swollen ankles to deal with. It’s a wonderful relief. I think your body starts to wilt a bit as it knows it has nothing left to give. As you look around the room, there is nothing but smiles and high fives being thrown around. There is music blaring out of the speakers, but you can barely hear it. Again: in this moment, nothing else matters. From that moment till you leave for home its nothing but happiness. Even when you are packed up and saying goodbye to the guys, there is always that little smirk saying, “hell of a season pal,” without the words needing to be said.
I’ve heard that– once you win a championship– you’ll always have a special bond with the guys on that team. I’ve now experienced that twice, and it’s true. Everybody on those two teams can now look back and share those great memories together. Once you become a champion, you gain a little immortality. That win can never be taken away from you. You are in the history books. Once you are a champion, you are always a champion.
In closing, I would like to thank the guys at Russian Machine Never Breaks for giving me the opportunity to join their team. It’s been an incredible ride through the playoffs this year and for me to be able to share my thoughts and feelings with so many people has been an amazing experience. I loved sharing stories about our wins and the courage it took for us to climb back into this series, but I think what I’ll remember most is how writing these entries helped me cope with the times when the series didn’t look so good. It was good for me to get my emotions out, and having thousands of people to vent on was really great.
To those of you who read these entries, I especially thank you! I have had nothing but wonderful feedback from all of you, and it was really encouraging for me to hear. I was a tad nervous at the beginning due to by lack of writing experience, but thanks to all those good reviews, I might have a new outlook on my career after hockey! Without readers, blog sites would never be as prominent of a media source as it is today, so I thank you for your ongoing support. Over the past few weeks it’s been a pleasure to help so many see a little deeper into what’s going on behind the scenes and in my head as a player. You as fans make playing hockey the joy that it is, so to be able to give back a few words every couple days is really the least I could do. Again, I thank you.
As my last quote, I only have to go back a couple months to the Olympics in Vancouver. After Canada won the gold medal game in overtime, one of the NBC announcers had this to say, and after going through this season in Hershey, I completely agree with him.
“In sports, one of the hardest things to do is win when you are supposed to.”
Thank you for your time. See you in September!
Yours in hockey,