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Thursday 3/18/21

I tuned into the BC/UMass-Lowell Hockey Tournament game last night with about ten minutes to go in regulation. BC--the #1 team in the country--was up 4-1. UMass-Lowell cut it to 4-2, with somewhere around eight minutes left, and they seemed confident to me, which sounds strange. They were a .500 team on the year. But they appeared to believe they were in this game. A lot of positive energy on the bench. I thought, "Hmmm, this bears watching."

Turns out they tied it 4-4, and then they took a dumb penalty. BC goes up 5-4 on the powerplay, with around two minutes to go. Should be over, right? And over for a second time.

Hockey is the best sport, in my view, for a number of reasons. It's the sport most like writing. With its geometry, and the requirement of being present in multiple temporal spaces at once. A hockey game, a Bach fugue, and a story I write have certain things in common. One reason why I am always suspicious and tend to think less of someone intellectually who scoffs at sports, acts as though sports are beneath their rarefied ken. Normally this is a person who knows very little, including about the "smart" person topics they pretend to know and care about. Because they can't even see something like this, which I think is evident to anyone who actually understands how art functions. If you really do. Not you pretend do.

But hockey is also the great game of character. I think more of it is required in hockey. UMass-Lowell then ties the game at 5, which was pretty special, and does not happen without character. They go to OT, and UMass-Lowell is dictating pace and play--they hit the post a couple times, too--but BC, which hadn't been getting a ton of shots on net, starts peppering the UMass-Lowell goalie. That's tough, when you haven't seen a lot of rubber, to then just shut it down with a barrage. BC's goalie, Spencer Knight, was in net for that USA Juniors team that just won Gold. Looks like a bright NHL prospect. I'd read an interview he gave, and was impressed with his mindset. But he could not stop anything elevated on his blocker side. Very leaky there, and that's where he kept getting beat. Even from the short side on a bad angle.

You can tell when a goalie isn't tracking the puck, just like you can see when a batter, in baseball, is. I remember watching David Ortiz in the 2013 World Series. He hit like .700 or whatever, but he looked the best to me when he took pitches. It was easy to see how well he was seeing the ball. The UMass-Lowell goalie was seeing the puck, but BC puts one past him. They celebrate, leaping all over each other against the glass in the way of these things. But then there was this review going on. For a while. Finally, the ref comes out and signals no goal, ruling that BC was offside. We're talking like an inch, if that.

The teams go to a second OT, and what do you know, lowly UMass-Lowell knocks off the country's number one team, in their own rink, on a bang-bang, kind of busted played that originated out of nothing. And it was pretty cool. Best hockey I've seen in a while--bunch of years. And inspiring.

The teams leave the ice, but Knight stays in his goal, just standing there, shell-shocked, all alone in an empty arena. This is the kind of thing that, if you're not careful, can wreck you as a player. It happened to Atlee Hammaker, a pitcher who was never the same after giving up 7 runs in two-thirds of an inning at the 1983 All-Star Game.

But this is also telling--this other kid on BC eventually goes out to get Knight. The goalie is skating like some dazed man back to the bench, but the other kid keeps tapping him on the pads with his stick as he's talking to him the whole way.

I thought, "this is what being a good teammate is all about." There's a life lesson there. Teammates don't always like each other. They often don't. You're not together on a team because you're friends. You didn't pick each other for company. But you are working to a greater good. Life is like that. We are teammates, after a fashion. Or we should endeavor to be.

BC will make the National Tournament, and may be a #1 seed, or at worse a #2. If they should go on to win the thing, that little skate off the ice after the guy came out to get the goalie, will be a real reason why.


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