Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Against all odds

If you want to find a superstitious athlete, just look for a hockey player. They have been known to take certain routes to the arena (even if it’s out of their way), put their equipment on in a specific order, eat at the same restaurant before every game, or not step on the blue line when heading for the net (à la Patrick Roy). There is no sound reason for these behaviours, but it seems to make them believe that they will play better. Unfortunately, some fans have adopted superstitions of their own, believing that they can help their teams.

Without reason, I have become superstitious and it has become more serious in the last few months. Okay, in reality I only have one superstition, and it involves my black Crosby jersey. I noticed that every now and again when I wear my jersey, the Penguins lose (which is to be expected since the team will not win every game). However, for some strange reason, the irrational part of my brain began to believe that the Pens lost when I wore the jersey. The rational part – which I hope is the larger section of my brain – would often point out the stupidity of my beliefs and I would throw on my jersey in hopes of proving myself wrong.

This back and forth inner dialogue seems, well, stupid, but it didn’t stop me from taking off my jersey for games 3 and 4 since the Penguins were unable to score a goal in the Stanley Cup Finals when I wore my sweater for the first two games.

Then, as game 5 drew near, the debate started again and I wondered if my wearing of the jersey would somehow cause a cosmic force to swing the game in the Red Wings’ favour. It was a somewhat half-hearted debate, for I knew that in all probability, the Wings would win the game, but Miss Rational took over and ended the discussion in my head once and for all.

See, I came to realize last night that by wearing the jersey, I am not influencing the outcome of the game any more than beards help a player to become the playoff scoring leader.

No, wearing the sweater is all about showing support for my team. It’s about showing the world that I am a fan of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

With my oversized jersey (who would’ve thought that a medium would look more like a dress?) on my back, I settled in front of my television to watch the game at 9 PM.

I told myself that the Penguins were going to lose the game and therefore the Cup. It’s not that I believed that there was absolutely no hope of the Pens winning – I wholeheartedly believed that they could extend the series. It’s just that I recognized the fact that the Red Wings are a very good team and the Pens would seemingly have to climb Mount Everest to win game 5.

But more importantly, I didn’t want to hype myself up too much and risk the possibility of feeling disappointed if the Pens lost. I was so proud of this team for coming this far, and I didn’t want to feel the bitter taste of disappointment…at all. So here I sat, in my black Crosby jersey, my head held high as the guys went into battle. I knew that my feelings about this team would remain unchanged, no matter the outcome.

I cheered for Hossa’s goal, and for Hall (or Kronwall) too. I was happy, but I knew better than to get over-confident. They say that a 2-goal lead is the most dangerous lead in hockey, and that cliché proved to be right last night.

The Stanley Cup was waiting in the hallway, polished and ready to be carried onto the ice. The champagne was cold, waiting to be sprayed around the dressing room. Detroit was nursing a one-goal lead. With less than a minute remaining in the game, and the fans on their feet, cheering and chanting, the seemingly impossible happened. Max Talbot was left alone beside the net and he banged away at the puck, sliding it behind Osgood for the tying goal.

Then, after almost 50 minutes of overtime hockey, Petr Sykora broke his scoring slump and netted the game-winner – a goal that he had predicted earlier in OT.

Back to Pittsburgh it is, Stanley Cup, champagne and all.

It was 2 AM, the game had just finished; I was shaking and I felt a tear slide down my cheek. I quickly realized that, no matter how this series ended, this game would be the highlight of the 2008 Stanley Cup Finals. It doesn’t matter if Detroit scores 9 goals and hoists the Cup tomorrow – what people will remember is how the Penguins managed to win game 5 when everything was going against them.

Few people truly believed that the Penguins would win game 5 in Detroit. The Pens showed up and got a few breaks – breaks they desperately needed – to put them up 2-0, but they saw that lead evaporate.

They battled and played with their hearts on their sleeves.

They did not give up, even when the entire building thought it was over.

Ryan Malone took a slap shot to the face and was back in the third period, blocking shots.

Sergei Gonchar hurt his back, but soldiered back in the third OT to set up the winning goal.

Marc-André Fleury channeled Patrick Roy, putting forth a truly inspiring performance when Detroit outworked and outskated the Penguins.

Petr Sykora called his own goal in OT, despite the fact that he hasn’t scored in the Finals.

Detroit may be outplaying the Penguins in this series, but the Pens showed unbelievable character and heart last night – something that the Red Wings have yet to match.

If the Penguins are unable to win the Cup this year, there will be no disappointment in my house. I will sit here, a thousand miles away, in my black Crosby sweater and with my head held high. I will salute them for their effort, their courage, and their heart.

I am proud of them, and I hope that they are proud of themselves.

And never again will I believe in that stupid superstition.

Go Pens.

1 comment:

DaBich said...

Be sure to have that black jersey on, you know I'll have MINE on!
These are OUR boys, win or lose. I'm so proud of them!

Go Pens!