Recreational hockey can go through highs and lows similar to an NHL season. If you take the games seriously - or maybe too seriously, as I tend to do - you get some dizzying highs but you can also suffer through some cavernous lows.
Continue after the jump to read about one of each that I've had the pleasure/pain of experiencing/suffering.
How Can We NOT Score on an Empty Net?
There are times during your rec league career where either your team or another team will wind up without a goalie. Either your captain borked and forgot to get a sub, or he wasn't able to get a sub, or maybe your goalie forgot his mask.
That's what happened to my team's opponents, just last week. While we were skating around for our warm-ups, we noticed the lack of a goalie when there was a minute or two left until game time. Their goalie emerged from the locker room stating he didn't have his mask and was obviously asking us if we had one (we didn't).
The pooch screwing continued for a few minutes while we tried to find a solution. We recommended a forward giving up his helmet (players in our league are required to wear at least a half shield and most wear full cages) for the goalie, but the officials nixed that for safety concerns.
So, as is the case in the Hockey North America (HNA, the league I play in) rulebook, they were allowed to have six skaters on the ice. Typically when this happens, the sixth skater will act as a third defenseman and last-resort "goalie." Now, I've been in that situation - I volunteered since I had played goalie before - and it turned out well. I stopped 18 of 21 shots to survive to a 3-3 tie. Now, don't think there were guys taking 100mph slapshots at me. We had been facing a team of mostly beginners who typically couldn't lift the puck, so I had it pretty easy. But I digress.
Now, this particular team had been our rivals for many years until they greatly surpassed us skill wise. They started the same year our team did as beginners, but they recruited ringers and improved much quicker that our team did and had since moved up a level, so we hadn't seen them in nearly two years. I think many of us that have experienced suffering tough losses to these guys before were looking forward to sticking a boot up their asses since they were sans goalie.
This task still proved difficult however, seeing as they were a much faster and more skilled team than we are (which is the reason they are typically a level above us - damn you, summer league!). Since we were essentially on a permanent penalty kill (6 vs. 5), we did not have much time and space to get into their zone and get chances, and the chances we did have, we failed to either elevate the puck (allowing their sixth man to stop pucks with his skates) or just missed the net entirely (we suffer this same issue against actual goalies too).
In addition to all that, we played like it was a scrimmage with some friends. We were slow, sometimes lazy, not playing our positions, bunching up, and wandering around zones. The ice was ridiculously soft, which for a fatass like me (6'3", 240lbs) makes it horrendous to try to skate.
Yet, through all this, about midway through the second period, we found ourselves ahead 5-3. At this point, while I was on the bench, I saw someone lurking around our opponent's locker room. He had a goalie mask in his hands. FUCK. These guys had been pressuring us all night, and we were fortunate to be ahead at this point. Now they're going to have a goalie soon. My fears were put to rest momentarily when it was clear the goalie was no longer in the locker room, so the search was on. The game continued and as the second period was coming to an end, their goalie was discovered and was getting geared up in the locker room and we had given up another goal, making it 5-4 entering the third.
Every single point is ridiculously important during the summer session. Five teams at our level, ten games, and the top two teams get in the championship. This was our fifth game, and we were in first by one point. We were lucky to be in that position at that time and we needed every point we could get. I pointed this out during the intermission (it's only 60 seconds or so) and tried to get some inspiration and adrenaline pumping so we could start the third with some fire.
The start of the third saw the return of their goalie and a renewed pressure from them. Thankfully, we were equally fired up and were able to run with them for the first several minutes of the period. We got a couple solid opportunities early but couldn't convert. Then the hammer fell and they scored. We have a 5-5 tie game.
We continued to battle hard after that and kept going hard, however, it wasn't meant to be as they took the lead 6-5 with only a couple of minutes remaining in the game. My line was up next for the second-to-last shift and the first line would get the final minute of the game. We were able to get the puck in deep and get some fantastic pressure and I even had a chance to tie up the game as the puck squirted loose to me on the empty side of the net, but it was just barely out of my reach. We were able to maintain possession in the zone and get our final line change of forwards in and our first line also continued the pressure, but it wasn't mean to be.
That was the first time I was completely silent during the handshake line. Even if I'm completely pissed off at the other team for whatever, I'll give some kind of acknowledgement to each player passing. I couldn't even look most of them in the eye; I was so embarrassed for us. This hurt a hell of a lot more than the 11-2 losses, or the heartbreaking throwing away of third period leads, and it was even more embarrassing than our worst season that we finished with a 2-19 record.
I mean they had NO GOALIE FOR TWO PERIODS! How does that happen? The locker room was the quietest I had ever heard it since I started with the team almost five years ago and we've had our share of quiet and frustrated locker rooms. I'm usually one of the last people out of the locker room because I'll take my time undressing to hear everyone's thoughts, chat about the game, and so on. After this game everyone knew we - to clarify, that's most of us, not all -- took two periods off assuming we wouldn't have a goalie to face and it bit us in the ass.
How Can A 1-4 Weekend Feel THIS GOOD?
Now that you're all depressed and frustrated (I instilled empathy in you, right? RIGHT!?), it's time for a story with a happy ending.
Before I took the reigns as captain, our team was slowly beginning to improve and actually become a team instead of just a collection of players. Our captain at the time, Mike, let us all know that there was a tournament at one of the local rinks sponsored by US Hockey that took place on one of our game-less weekends. We were guaranteed at least four games during the weekend and could get more depending on number of teams at our level, our success, and so on.
We all thought it sounded fun to spend the weekend together around the rink playing hockey, having meals together and just generally having a hockey-centric weekend.
The games started early Saturday morning, but our first wasn't until early afternoon, so most of us met up early and sat in the stands to watch the earlier games. We knew the teams at our level for the tournament, but only one of them was from our league, so we wanted to see what the competition looked like.
Well, let's just say that even though we got slotted in at the lowest level, the other teams at our level were far more talented. We knew watching them that these games would be rough. We all just decided to enjoy ourselves, to play hard, and to just do our best. We did just that.
We had three games Saturday and we lost all three by hefty margins. Yet, we all still had a good time because we ate meals together as a team, watched the other games as a team, and just enjoyed each other's company. We learned a lot about each other both as people and as a team through that first day.
We had two more games on Sunday, with our finale - we already knew we'd only get that fifth game and no more - against the only other team that went to the tournament from our league. Interesting note: this team is the same one from the first story above, although this story happened about three years before the first story. Anyways...
So, as expected, we got beat up in the fourth game and we were all exhausted from playing four games in about 36 hours. We were all excited to face our rivals for the weekend finale, especially since they were getting their rear ends kicked all over the rink as well. We had hope.
As was typical when we played this team, the game was very physical - despite our no-check league rules - and the momentum swung back and forth. Since this took place a few years ago, I can't remember details of the game, except for the fact that it was tied 1-1 early, and stayed that way into the third period.
For that tournament, a husband of one of our female players joined us. He normally wouldn't be allowed to play for our team since he's far more talented than players at our level, but since this tournament was outside of HNA's rules, he could play for us. He made a remarkable end-to-end break and scored one of the most beautiful individual goals I've seen at a rec hockey game, giving us a 2-1 lead.
They brought a ton of pressure to finish off the game, including some really nasty physical play, but we were able to hold off our rivals and win our weekend finale 2-1 and finish the tournament with a record of 1-4 and we were thrilled. The happiness of that victory carried us through the rest of that bleak winter season (this was our 2-19 season) and I'm convinced that kept the core of our team from leaving.
Here we are nearly three years later, and most of us are still together. In fact, our team has more or less had the same core of players for the past three years. Sure, we've gone through a couple goalies - none wanting to leave - and have added some more skilled players, but the core of our team remains. Our core is what I'm most proud of when it comes to our team.
Are we the most skilled? No. Do we score the most goals? Hell no. Are we always exciting to watch? No. Yet I can honestly say we're a family and I feel like it all started that weekend. We're very cautious of bringing in new players; no matter how good they are, because we want the attitude and environment of our team to stay comfortable, safe, fun and competitive.
So, there you have it. Some of the highs and lows you can possibly experience during your rec league hockey career. Despite some of the treacherous lows, horrible feelings after games, and our mostly lack of success - at least in a record and championships sense - I wouldn't give this team up for anything. At the very least I consider all of them my friends and some of them I consider very close friends.
So what about you all? Those of you who play, what kind of highs and lows have you experienced? Anyone out there suffer a worse record than 2-19 for a season?
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