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Friday, June 17, 2011

No One Will Remember the Numbers

I should preface this post with an apology.

I'm sorry for the lack of content posted to this page. After getting the call up to Barstool NYC, I knew it would be tough to balance writing '94 Parade articles with work while contributing to another site that admittedly brings me more readership and feedback then I ever thought I'd get. The posts on this page were very rewarding to write, but also took a long time and never seemed to garner much interaction. The '94 Parade Facebook page, on the other hand, was and is a real treat to run. Immediate interaction with fellow Ranger fans has helped me stay sane through this last season, and I can't imagine not discussing life as a Ranger fan through the '94 Parade page with all you fine people. I will continue to post on Barstool, I will continue to run the aforementioned facebook page, and I will try occasionally to update the content here.

With that being said, here's an article I wrote during and after the stanley cup finals game 7. It's a little long and bit somber for my normal work, but I just wanted to put it somewhere. Well, here it is. I hope you enjoy the writing style equivalent of my offspeed pitch.

Some will remember the hugs, the high fives, and the moments left speechless. Some will remember the tears they shed and that feeling of falling just short. All will remember the Conn Smyth winner and who first got to lift up Lord Stanley’s Cup, but no one will remember the numbers.

At the end of an 82 game regular season and a lengthy playoff run, statistics reach their freezing point. We are left with a leader in every category measured – goals, assists, points and penalties. Someone sits in second and the rest sail “into bolivian”. The fact that Tim Thomas led the league with his goals against average and save percentage will forever remain footnotes to a fact – he and the rest of the Boston Bruins are now Stanley Cup Champions*(1).

To determine in physical distance the stark contrast of emotions felt in the wake of last night’s deciding Game 7, we would need the Ron Jeremy of all tape measurers. It would easily cover the thousands of miles that separate Vancouver and Boston, the most travel demanding Stanley Cup Final of all time. When you consider the season-long passion of Canadian hockey fans and the die-hard Bruins faithful, it’s the only appropriate way to take a final prospective on both this series and indeed the entire NHL season. A montage is made up of moments after all, not numbers. Wednesday night saw riots in B.C. and mass celebrations in Boston. How did we get there? How did one game throw two cities on such a contrasting emotional path*(2)? To find that out, we must take a look back at the emotionally memorable moments and their series significance. Years from now, when the hockey world remembers the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, these moments will be all that’s left.

Game one featured an epic goalie’s duel; 59 minutes and 41 seconds of scoreless hockey ended when Raffi Torres tapped a home the winner. Vancouver may have come away with the win, but it was Alex Burrow and his now infamous overbite that stole the next day’s headlines. All of Boston cried afoul and the league decided to play dumb; Burrows was not suspended for what many considered to be an obvious breach of the rules. Whether the evidence of a bite was conclusive or not, the moment highlights what happens to hockey players when they’re so close to hoisting Lord Stanley. They go insane*(3). They are so close to the chalice of their childhood dreams that normal notions of etiquette go right out the window. They become like rugby players, chomping at an opponent’s extremities for any taste of an edge they can get*(4).

And an edge they did get. Burrows became the focal point of the series’ second game after he took part in all three Canuck goals, including the overtime winner which he scored 11 seconds into the extra period. Boston fans wondered what would have happened had Burrows been suspended. Vancouver fans wondered when their parade would begin. I wondered what I be reduced to watching once this insanely magical season of NHL hockey finally stopped*(5).

When Maxim Lapierre taunted the Bruins’ Patrice Bergeron with a cheeky little smile and an offered up finger late in game 2, he really made a mistake. He essentially opened up the floodgates of hate for two cities that rarely see each other during the regular season. Matching the contempt Boston has for the city of Montreal would be quite a feat for anyone to muster, but Vancouver managed to elicit the full force of Masshole hatred before the second game even ended. Traveling Canuck fans would soon marvel in horror at the verbal brutality Boston fans bring to TD Garden. After two Vancouver home games and two Vancouver wins, no one could deny that we had a series of spirit on our hands. Now if only the Bruins could win a game or two and keep the whole thing competitive…*(6)

If you ask a random group of 100 diehard hockey fans what the final score of Game 3 was, some might remember. Some would say 8-1, some might say 7-1 forgetting Michael Ryder’s insult-to-injury goal, and some would simply say blowout and leave it at that. If you ask the same random group of 100 diehard fans what the turning point of said blowout was, every single one of them would answer Aaron Rome’s head-hunting hit on Nathan Horton. It was the kind of the play that changes the course of hockey history, but it barely made a blip on the stats sheet. Shots of Horton lying motionless on the ice made the scene harder to watch than a Sarah McLachlan-ASPCA commercial, and yet no one changed the channel. A massive concussion and a deserved suspension were the major storylines following the final game’s whistle, but the Bruins had rallied around their fallen hero and hung an 8-spot on Roberto Luongo. It was the city’s first Stanley Cup Finals win in 21 years. Boston was back, baby.

Game 4 gave us another Boston win and a Tim Thomas shutout, but the game’s most poignant moments came before and after the contest had ended. Prior to the puck drop, the night’s honorary captain and Bruins legend Bobby Orr stood at center ice and waved a giant black flag emblazoned with the injured Horton’s name and number. Famous #4 had no trouble pumping up the crowd that night, but the emotional intensity he instilled in the TD Garden crowd before the game was rebranded “euphoria” 12 minutes in*(7). Rich Peverley’s first of two goals made Luongo look like Swiss cheese, and his second ended the Vancouver goalie’s night early in the third. Only after the curtain finally closed and the Bruins had tied the series did the game’s most memorable moment happen. Nathan Horton, whose true concussion status remained a mystery to most Boston players, greeted his teammates in the home team locker room with some words of encouragement and a vintage Bruins jacket. The jacket, a failure of fashion even by 80s’ standards, is passed down each night to the player who made the game’s biggest impact. Horton had it hung in his locker after the Bruins game 3 win; he was already at Massachusetts General Hospital being monitored for symptoms. After game 4, he presented it to Peverley, face to face*(8).

As the series traveled back to Vancouver, the Bruins and their suddenly explosive offense also traveled back down to earth. Game 5 was another goaltender’s duel, but the 1-0 Canucks win will always be remembered more for the post-game comments than the action on the ice. Roberto Luongo seemed pretty satisfied with himself after pitching yet another home ice playoff shutout*(9). When asked if the shot that beat Tim Thomas would have passed him by as well, Luongo basically gave himself the Vezina trophy when he said, “It’s an easy save for me”. The verbal slight seemed to galvanize both the blood-thirsty American media and the Boston fans alike as the game headed back into bean town. Everyone came to Thomas’s defense while Luongo the bully managed to make the Canucks even less likeable. In the end, it’s all we will remember from game 5 – the moment this series truly became personal*(10).

Luongo lit the fuse with his Game 5 press conference, but the bomb blew up in his face for game 6. Three quick goals in the first was all the leash coach Alain Vigneault could afford, so Roberto Luongo spent the rest of the night as a spectator. It was an epic case of open mouth-insert skate; Larry David couldn’t have scripted it better himself. The game seemed over before the period even ended. I even felt secure enough to change the channel and check in on the Bachelorette*(11). As Bruins fans chanted “We Want the Cup”, it was obvious that they didn’t want their wish granted that night. Not right there, not right then. Lord Stanley would be making the trip back to Vancouver, after all, for the most intense of all sporting competitions – Game 7.

In every sport, in every situation, game 7 will forever be a feeling. Forget what actually happened; forget the true specifics. Game 7 will always be a cloudy haze of action and emotion. It’s the chills in preparation. It’s the boiling point of fandom. All your time and energy of an entire season spent and sacrificed for the opportunity to win one game.

There will always be photos, there will always be facts. There will be sound clips, written round-ups and YouTube tributes. There will be riots in both cities*(12). There will be rings, hats, t-shirts and more. We will buy these things. We will consume these memories in material. We will remember those moments as true NHL history. We will hold on to the edges of these memories as one season passes into another. A player’s plus/minus average and his total penalty minutes will fade into the land of forgotten factualities, for the knowledge we retain is always a product of the heart, never the head.

What happened on Wednesday night in Vancouver will live on in many forms – memorabilia, overplayed NHL commercials, the engraved names of the 2010-2011 Boston Bruins. What happened will live on forever in the annals of hockey history, but no one will remember the numbers.

*1 - Footnote to this fact – he deserves it. I’m a full time Rangers fan, but I’m also a full time American. Watching this Michigan man/Vermont grad finally get his cup was a treat for that latter profession of mine. A part of me wanted the Canucks to win game 7 just to see if they’d give him the Conn Smyth anyways. It’s not unprecedented, and he totally deserved it.

*2 - Playoff hockey is without a doubt the most emotionally pivotal product out there for sports consumption. Generally speaking, I’m a healthy person when it comes to my mental disposition. On April 20th, I attended the Rangers-Caps game 4 at MSG with my fiancĂ© on what was incidentally our 7 year anniversary. On that day, I experienced a series of manic episodes that would make Ray Finkle seem totally normal.

*3 - How else can you explain grown men playing with broken legs and severed tendons? It’s the type of tunnel vision insanity that stops your body from thinking logically. All it keeps saying is, “We want the cup…. We want the cup…”

*4 - Like my mom used to say after she came back from a day at the mall, if you don’t want to lose an ear, don’t jump into the scrum.

*5 - And please, NBC, don’t say “The Voice”. I’ve seen it and I’m not impressed. When you’re hosting the America’s 500th official TV vocal contest, you’re bound to a talent pool of recycled losers. Even Xtina can’t convince me that these people are legitimate singing stars.

*6 - Does it sound like I was rooting for the Bruins? I wasn’t. I was rooting for intense hockey and a competitive series. If game 3 ended in a Vancouver win, it would have been a critical loss not just for Boston but for the NHL as well.

*7 - With Cam Neely (former Bruins #8 and current member of the team’s front office) as honorary captain, Boston scored 8 goals. With Bobby Orr as captain, the B’s put back 4. This little conspiracy theory coincidence had people asking where Ray Bourque would be for game 6.

*8 - Reading the quotes of Boston players after seeing Horton that night should serve as a reminder to head hunting hockey players – don’t give the other team a reason to rally around each other.

*9 - Despite having given up 12 goals in the previous 2 games. As they say, people in glass houses…

*10 - There will certainly be a couple awkward moments at the annual NHL awards ceremony in Las Vegas as Luongo and Thomas will stand side by side to hear who wins bragging rights as the league’s best goaltender.

*11 - Secure enough in both the scoreline and my sexuality. Guilty pleasures - what can I say?

*12 - Unfortunately.

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