Saturday, April 15, 2006

Wednesday Warriors

“This is awesome!” shouts Aaron Sherman in the Bruins’ locker room, which is all but empty. Fiftysomething forward Bob Blizard is already on Rink Two as our superstar and the other five B’s prepare for this morning’s game against the Tuesday Leafs.

Sherm is seated opposite me and next to his mentor and boss, Mike Kennedy. To my left, Rich Yamartino and Mike Gardner strap on their gear; to my right, goalie Anthony Bonfiglio guards the locker room door. We’re all focused on Sherman, who’s explaining that he’s pumped for this morning’s action.

Because we’ll ice only six skaters, Number 23 plans to play the whole game, which is fine by me because I don’t want to be on the ice for more than two minutes at a time, especially if I’ll have to play a few shifts at forward.

Sherman’s delight turns to disgust after the Leafs score the first goal. He glides to bench, his angst building, muttering something about how he drove all the way from the North Shore for this?

I say nothing and swing my legs over the boards for my first shift.

The Leafs take a two-goal advantage, but in the closing seconds of the first frame, Yamartino put us on the board.

We pile on the pressure in the second period—led by Sherm, who scores four goals. He takes control of the game but loses his composure, rattled by Leafs Alex Tee and John Langevin. When he isn’t scoring, Sherman—who to this point in the season has reaped the dividends of the AMHL’s world-class anger management program, is stewing in the sin bin, overtly questioning calls and risking a relapse.

We lead 5–4 going into the third period, but the Leafs, who need a victory to make the Tuesday play-offs, are more desperate and have plenty of fuel in the tank and reserves on the bench.

On the Bruins’ bench, a thin, overworked squad, which has already made the Thursday play-offs, wonders if it can hold the lead. Gardner winces, willing his shoulder to recover from the tumble he took into the boards after stepping on MacDonald’s stick blade.

After one shift, he’s in agony and cannot continue. Five skaters. No reserves. The Carnation chocolate breakfast drink I downed at 6:06 a.m. is losing its effect, and my two-minute shifts turn into a marathon.

Sherman rushes to the rescue, scoring his fifth goal. We’re up 6–5 in the last minute. But with 45 seconds remaining, the Sherminator blows a gasket after the referee whistles him for his third penalty of the game. Banished from the ice, Sherman watches the Leafs pull goalie Dan Barros. Sherman turns for the locker room after the Leafs tie the score.

Overtime. Three on three. Blizard shakes off a wrist injury but continues to battle. Inside our blue line, he beats a Leaf to the puck, pushing it out of our zone. The Leafs attack again, and again, but Figgy buoys the Bruins.

At the other end of the rink, behind Barros, the final seconds march toward 00:00. I dive across the crease to stop a threatening Leaf, but Bonfiglio has already smothered the puck. The buzzer announces the end of the regular season.

Tired and sweaty Leafs and Bruins shake hands. Leafs’ defenseman Charles Bradley comments about what a game this was and how I should write about it.

Superb goaltending…desperation…middle-age men and women playing their hearts out….Sherman’s five goals and three penalties…fantastic! But then the league’s vocal locomotive turns his game down a notch. He apologizes to his opponents and his teammates for his regression. All is forgiven.

This is awesome!