1 minute and 6 seconds.
The way these tournaments work is that everyone plays 3 games in the preliminary round. Then the top two teams from each bracket go to the semi finals. “Best” is determined by points: 2 for a win, 1 for a tie, 0 for a loss. Out of 8 teams, half make the playoff round. Half go home.
You should know that in spite of being seeded second in the tournament, we arrived without two of our players. It’s their break from school and they had other commitments…ones involving air travel. Friday night we played short one defenseman, so we rotated three players instead of four. That means long shifts and tired legs as the game goes on. And the defensive player we were missing may also be our top scorer. Having him out could, potentially, have been a mental weight on the team as well as adding to the heaviness of their tired legs. We lost a close game. We also lost two more players, a center and another defenseman, to their air travel plans.
It wasn’t looking good. Typically you have to win two games to make it to playoffs. If we couldn’t win when we were only short two players, how were we going to do it down four? We had only 2 defensive players…and you need 2 defenseman on every shift…they couldn’t very well play the entire game (45 minutes–3 x 15 minute periods). Families started quietly making plans to ski on Sunday.
Saturday our first game wasn’t until after 1:00, so the kids had some good team time and a slow start. When they headed out of the hotel for the game, they were upbeat. One shift, one period, one game. That’s how they’d play.
And oh, did they play their hearts out? With only two lines (meaning we had enough players for 1 sub at each position) we got off to a strong start. Within the first two minutes we had five strong shots on net. We killed off a penalty and finished the first period scoreless. Early in the second we held off the other team’s 5 skaters with 4 of our own because of a penalty. Then score! Watertown snuck a shot into the upper corner of the net. Followed very quickly by another goal. We were up 2-0. Back and forth, man up, man down, the opponents managed to score in the final second of their power play, moments before we’d be restored to full strength.
The second period ended Watertown 2, Oyster River 1. Still a chance. Suddenly, we were beginning to hope. Some of us were letting ourselves remember two years ago when we were also playing for a chance at the New England championship. Maybe…If only…
Watertown found themselves in the box again and again putting us at a disadvantage. But the team stayed strong and calm. Late in the 3rd we scored an insurance goal. With just over a minute left in the game, and nothing to lose, Oyster River pulled their goalie so they could have an extra skater on offense. The risk is, that if your opponent gains control of the puck they can score much more easily on an undefended goal. We did just that! The stands erupted as the puck slid into the net from across the blue line with 20 seconds remaining.
The team cheered the 4-2 victory, and now playoffs felt like a real possibility. The team we’d be facing tonight hadn’t won a game. As the afternoon wore on, the tournament math became clearer. All Watertown had to do to earn a spot in the playoffs was…not lose. A win would put us in, but so would a tie.
Coach called for a quiet, restful afternoon before the second game. Players and families returned to the ice refreshed, but also with a confidence that we were as good as in. Ski plans were adjusted accordingly to allow for a Sunday morning game.
And we took the ice. Heads high. Eyes sharp. Full speed.
One of our wingers has helped out on defense before when we were shorthanded. He stepped in again for both games today. So we ran 3 D. Long shifts, but a chance to grab a drink and a breath every couple of minutes. That is, unless a defenseman ends up in the penalty box…twice. That automatically means the other two D players have to cover the entire 2:00 short-handed shift, and a bit extra on either side of it until there’s a chance to change. So, of course, that’s what happened. One D landed in the box for nearly back to back penalties, leaving the two regular defensemen with achingly long shifts. And yet, we came out of the first period unscathed. 0-0 tie.
More penalties plagued us in the second and they stacked up so that we were playing 3 players to Rhode Island’s 5. It was too much. They scored only a minute into the penalty. The frustration was mounting. Our passing was crisp. Our skating was lightning fast. We set up plays. We worked as a team. We were outplaying them in every regard…except none of our 40 shots had gotten past their goalie.
Remember, all we needed was a tie. The time was ticking away. With just over 5 minutes left in the game Providence managed a breakaway and flew down the ice, edging out our final defenseman. His shot eked past our goalie and killed any hope of recovery. 2-0 late in the 3rd.
But the kids never stopped battling. Every puck in the corners was sharply contested. Every skater put on the extra burst of speed to beat out their opponent on the plays. But the clock was ticking down. Less than 2:00 to go.
We pulled our own goalie. Nothing to lose…
With 1:06 on the clock we scored! The team piled on the one who scored, but it wasn’t enough. A loss would knock us out.
But wait…it’s in! 13 seconds later, off the faceoff, Watertown knocked down a second goal to tie the game.
You just never know. Maybe you’re missing 1/4 of your team. Maybe two of your remaining players are actually sick. Maybe you’re down by 2 in a must-win game and the time has nearly run out.
But it’s not over until the final buzzer or until you give up.
We’ll see you in the semi-finals tomorrow morning. I hope you weren’t planning on skiing, or swimming before the long ride home. There’s a little more hockey to play this season! This time it’s win or go home.