As the puck dropped on Thursday, a sudden wave of calm ran over me. I started to take to heart what I wrote in my last blog post. The idea that, regardless of outcome, this had been a magical season that had our Winnipeg Jets storming the gates of hockey superiority.
I was in a bar with fourteen other guys around a large round table we’d reserved for the game. The table had a lazy-Susan that we filled with multiple mini-kegs of beer. Nursing a cold I had caught from the late night on Monday, I decided to drive for my roomate and I. My roomate also happens to be one of my best friends and a major hockey fan, so we’d been through this a few times in the past month. In fact, I’d celebrated Jets wins and lamented the losses with most of these boys. In our apartment, downtown at the street party, we had made (and lost) a lot of memories.
And it all culminated to this moment, this game.
A single game would decide if we could keep doing this every second day. A dead even series between the two best teams in the league had definitely delivered on the hype.
“It certainly lived up to the extremes.” Paul Maurice, when asked if the series had done just that, stated through his normal, calculated squint. “I thought I’d be able to describe the games to you better than — if I had to go back and tell you how they went, they would seem so unusual.”
You could say that again. It was exhausting, honestly. I can’t even imagine how the players on the ice feel. Each game was like a world-class chess match where both Grandmasters had to walk a tight rope while playing. The strategy needed to be sound and the execution needed to be even better. When you first tuned in, you hoped the Jets had the opportunity to play their game. In the case of Game 7, they would need to steal that opportunity.
They did just that.
“Win or lose. We wanted to play our game. It’s what has given us success all year — that was it. Just keep it pretty simple”
Blake Wheeler, normally no-nonsense in a media scrum, gave his Captain’s speech with a sense of disbelief in how successful they were at doing it. I know that disbelief isn’t the word, because this team believes in themselves more than anyone. That belief is the bare-minimum for finding success at a high level in anything. But I think Wheels accidentally let on how special he thought what they had just accomplished was.
Or how special his team is.
For me to attempt to describe the game to you in terms of plays, match-ups, Corsi or any literal hockey term would be dishonest of me. I can tell you that Mark Scheifele set some sort of record and that the Paul Stastny trade looks like it might work out.
In reality, I spent most of the game jumping up and down, screaming in a public venue with fourteen of my friends. It was pure elation. The look in the eyes of every person there is something I won’t forget.
Fans of this team feel like they have played twelve games of post-season hockey, seven against a rival who stood eye to eye, went blow for blow. The weeks of cheering and agonizing, the hits to my body and bank account, the hours of conversation and analyzing every pass had come to a glorious head.
“… we’re just happy to keep playing for them”
Wait, what? Oh, right. We’re only halfway.
And there’s no time for rest. I haven’t even stopped clapping at the curtain closing on the still frame of our hero standing victorious at the end of the latest battle.
But that’s why hockey provides the best playoffs in all of sports. The decisive grind of baseball, the individual showcases of basketball and football-like physicality, all wrapped into a two month meat-grinder ending with glory for few and heartbreak for most.
Ladies and gentleman, please return to your seats. The second act of the best play yet to be written starts tomorrow evening in our barn, and we will need you to get loud.
“We did it, we actually did it, let’s go!!!!” my best friend exclaimed in the bar, in the car, in the parking lot of our building, and finally in our apartment.